Anxiety of School Years
Dear Diary...the ability to fit in to what teachers and peers of society expected of me was very hard to achieve when I was young, but there was one thing I was sure of; I couldn't wait to leave school, it was the loathing of kids picking on me I remember well, even though I was only eight. Leaving education was many years away, but it was the one thing that kept me sane and stopped me from going over the edge, even at that young age.
I couldn't ever understand why some kids enjoyed school. For me Art and English were the only two subjects I excelled at, especially my art teacher, who would always give praise where it was due and left me feeling that at least one teacher cared.
My least favorite subject was P E, I could never manage to keep up with the other girls and felt fat and frumpy when taking part in anything physical. Everyone else would be rushing about eager to get involved, I would just stand out of the way like a wallflower hoping the teacher wouldn't see me standing in the corner of the gym, of course I was forced to participate in the end which again put me in the firing line for more hurtful humiliation from the other girls.
Swimming was a nightmare too, I would constantly make up excuses not to take part, usually pretending I had a verruca. I remember one time when I was about ten, not being able to swim and I was quite well developed by that age. The PE teacher Miss Clements decided it would be a good idea to use the hook on a long stick that opened the windows, to clasp my bathing costume straps, she then insisted on pulling me along through the water with me pretending to do breast stroke and trying to swim frantically. Of course the next thing that happened was the straps broke and I was left in the deep end holding on to the bar for dear life, with my costume down around my waist, it was so embarrassing with all the other kids finding the sight of me topless very amusing, not even caring about the fact I was panicking I might drown. They never did let me live that moment down for years.
Again when I was about eleven or twelve, I had to go through the mortification of having my stocking ripped off my legs in the school changing rooms by some of the older girls on a weekly bases, they thought it was great fun to watch me scream and try to fight them off, then I'd have to get even more chastised by mum for letting it happen in the first place, whereupon I'd be back down to Woolworths to get a new pair of stockings which weren't cheap and which I'd have to pay for out of my own pocket money. I was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea and I didn't know what to do but let them have their way, until they got bored and moved on to someone else.
It seemed incredible to me that the kids that had confidence and were self assured were treated with respect by the teachers, but the quiet shy ones like me that were obliging but slow and not able to keep up with the others weren't given any regard at all, it was one rule for the strong willed and another for the weak.
Summer holidays couldn't come around fast enough. Being fortunate enough to be surrounded by woodland and living in a cul-de-sac, this was where I felt comfortable, it was like a big adventure playground where me and my neighboring friends could live in our own make believe world, making dens, climbing trees and getting down in the dirt not worrying about having grubby hands or cut knees, in fact I constantly got in scrapes and spent a good part of my childhood with plasters on my knees. These kids never made rude comments about me being fat, they looked up to me perhaps because I was older.
There was never any fear about staying in the woods late at night, because Dad only had to come to the bottom of the garden and call me, then we would all parade up the garden path and say goodnight till the next day when we'd do it all over again.
My best friends Debbie and Andrea lived up in the cul-de-sac and had the Old Quarry behind their house, that was also a playground of fun where we also had a bonfire and let off fireworks on Bonfire night.
There was just no end to the amount of dens we had. I remember one covered shelter we had in a tree, we turned it into a pirate ship with a flag and everything. We used toilet roll holders as telescopes to see who was coming, everything was fine till one day we found it destroyed – probably by a rival gang, that was just something we had to deal with, but we'd just find somewhere else to build a den in the end.
When dad bought the house in 1962, I'd never seen anything like it, coming from a two up – two down condemned cottage, with a postage stamp for a garden. But Dad managed to secure himself a well paid job as a rep working for a paint company, which meant he'd be earning good money and could now afford a mortgage. It was like a dream come true for us as a family.
The house was owned by two elder spinster ladies, but they'd let the garden go to ruin with long grass and weeds reaching up to the french windows of the house. This never phased my dad in the slightest, he had big ideas of what he would do and was young and fit, once being a builder come painter and decorator by trade when he left the army.
By the time dad finished with it, the nearly two hundred foot garden was laid out to patio – lawn – flowers and vegetable patch, which would then have a gate at the bottom leading into the woods. This garden became his pride and joy and I loved spending time in it. Dad would tend his vegetables after work and at weekends. Mum took pride in her roses which she loved so much. School was just an agitation from where I really wanted to be.
As far as I was concerned kids at school were mean and cruel and did nothing but tease me, well apart from a few who weren't too bad. I remember when I was in the juniors there was this one boy who was quite fat and quiet, because I was the silent fat girl, they used to push me down on the ground and make the fat boy lay on top of me, it was so humiliating, I shed so many tears as they laughed and laughed, calling me a cry baby. How glad I was when those childish days came to an end.
But it wasn't to last, for later on there were to be many other episodes that gave me cause to wonder if this was to be my life from now on. There was always a dominant girl or boy throughout my school life, the kind that has authority over all the other kids.
My main concern was with a girl called Carol, she was a year older than me and taller. She constantly swore and commanded authority, not only from the other kids, but even some of the teachers who were scared of her too. My whole second and third years of comprehensive school were spent being pushed around by this girl and her minions.
One day Carol slipped a note to one of the other girls in my class, the girl passed the note to me, it read: You'd better watch out after school, because I'm coming to get you.
The rest of the afternoon I spent trying to think of a way to leave school early because although I suppose most people would say I should stick up for myself, I hated conflict and wasn't into fighting or any kind of trouble.
I did try making myself sick in the toilets trying to stick my fingers down my throat, but it seemed an impossible task and I couldn't manage to do it. In the end I had no choice but to try and avoid her.
I remember the long walk down through the village. Carol wasn't anywhere to be seen, so I thought maybe she was calling my bluff and just threatening. But then as I proceeded down the hill towards home, there was a tap on my shoulder, without even looking I knew it was Carol. My heart skipped a beat as she came up beside me.
“What's up with you?” She said smirking all over her face and keeping two paces ahead of me.
I didn't say a word, but just kept on walking.
“Aren't you gonna speak to me then snooty cow?” All I could think was! Please go away, just leave me be.
“Hey!” She uttered. “I'm speaking to you.”
I still never responded, but started to pick up the pace, to which she stuck to me like glue, placing her arm through mine.
“Well! This is cozy,” she uttered, “but I don't like your attitude,” she announced staring me in the face. Then Carol did something I didn't expect, she produced a flick knife from her pocket and placed it near my face. “Listen to me – if you don't start talking, I'll be tempted to cut your tongue out.” The steel was cold to my cheek and I shivered with fear.
“Why do you keep picking on me?” I said. “I haven't done anything to you.” I stopped in my tracks, by now too afraid to move any further.
Carol glared, her smile one of wanting to interrogate me, even though she was on her own, being cross-examined by this girl was one of the most scary situations I'd been in, I didn't know whether she was capable of actually cutting my tongue out, but I knew she'd been in trouble for knifing someone before.
I was so frightened, I wasn't even aware of whether there was anyone around to help, all I could do was keep my eyes on Carol and the knife. She still had her arm slipped in mine, hugging me close like we were best buddies, I tried to pull away, but she wouldn't have it.
“I'll tell you why I pick on you, because you're a stuck up bitch who thinks you're better than everyone else, I'm here to bring you down to a level you will understand, so Miss High and Mighty can join the rest of us.”
That remark completely threw me, I didn't think I was better than anyone else, in fact I thought Carol was Miss High and Mighty with her minions following her everywhere she went. Although I didn't actually voice my opinion knowing that would have been a mistake.
Finally disentangling her arm from mine, deciding she was bored and had enough. Moving off she lagged behind, telling me she'd not finished with me and that I'd better watch myself. I was just glad to finally be left to make my way home. I never did tell anyone about her, that would have been a mistake.
Carol did come after me again after school, this time she had two friends with her, I was completely alone, so with just my satchel I started to swing it around in a circle to ward the girls off, luckily they got bored of their little games and left me alone again, but I was on tender hooks constantly wondering when they would pounce on me.
The funny thing is, when I went back for a school reunion in the early 1990s none of the girls remembered attacking me or even had any recollection of who I was. But I suppose it was because I'd changed so much, I was no longer that fat – shy young girl that wouldn't bite back.