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Sticks And Stones May Break Your Bones…but bullying is NEVER OK.

“Sticks and stones may break your bones
But names will never hurt you.”

 

Sticks and stones photo

I wish I had a pound for every time my Mum or my Wee Gran said that to me while I was growing up. I’d be a very rich girl if I had!
Bullying, for various reasons, has cropped up in several conversations recently. It’s stirred up more than a few ghosts from the past, I can tell you.
The childhood rhyme has played in the background like a soundtrack to my schooldays.
As the summer break draws to a close, if you’re a parent of a child who is being bullied and harassed, or a teacher of a class hiding a bully in its midst, you might want o pause and read the tale my daughter and I are about to share.
I’ll pause for a moment to allow you to reflect before continuing….this is could prove to be a difficult read for some.

I was bullied for six years in school (roughly 1979-1985 if you need a timeframe for reference here). To this day, I have no idea what triggered it but I can recall the first incident as clearly as if it happened yesterday.
It was a wet afternoon interval in school. I was in Primary 5. As a class, we had been painting pictures. I genuinely don’t recall saying or doing anything to trigger this but suddenly a few of the kids in the class were round my desk commenting on my poor artwork. (I never was much use at art and never claimed to be any good at painting.) There was a nasty, hurtful edge to their taunts. My desk was in front of the classroom door. The door to the corridor was open. I bolted!
I ran down the stairs, from the first floor to the basement, to seek refuge in the girls’ toilets. Twenty plus kids from the class followed me- boys and girls. I made it safely into a cubicle near the end of the row and locked the door. Safe. Wrong! All the kids, boys and girls, came charging into the toilets screaming and yelling, hammering on the door, trying to climb over the door and partition walls, trying to squeeze under the door and partition walls. I was absolutely terrified. The bell rang and, gradually, they all retreated. I stayed where I was until all was quiet then returned to my classroom. The teacher asked where I’d been and, when I told her what had happened, she didn’t believe me, suggesting I was lying. Suddenly, I was the one in trouble. I returned to my seat feeling twenty plus smug pairs of eyes watching me.
It all spiralled rapidly downhill from there.
I’m not going to go into this blow for blow (Yes, this went beyond name calling on a semi-regular basis for years)
I was ostracised. Outcast. I was nine years old.
If I arrived at school with something new, shoes or a bag or a coat, I was laughed at and ridiculed. My coat or blazer would regularly disappear from its allotted space in the cloakroom, only to turn up stuffed under a sink or behind a radiator, usually having been kicked about by muddy feet first.
The heavy metal band Iron Maiden with their skeleton mascot Eddie were just coming to the fore and one of the boys, who liked the band, nicknamed me “Beast” after the creature in the song “Number of the Beast”. That nickname stuck for years…. for ever. Kids, sometimes kids I didn’t even know, would grab me by the hair and haul at my clothing to determine if I had “666” tattooed at the back of my neck. Funnily enough, I don’t. Maybe that experience has contributed to the fact that I have no ink on me whatsoever, despite having two designs that in my heart I would love to have discretely tattooed.
The few friends I had in the class vanished into the crowd.
Lunchtimes and intervals became endlessly long, lonely periods of time to be endured instead of enjoyed. I retreated into myself. I kept myself to myself, finding a quiet corner to hide and read my book in peace, losing myself in the words on the pages to escape from the reality I was living.
By the time I reached Primary 7, things were no better. It was in Primary 7 that I remember physically striking back for the first time. I was reading the book My Friend Flicka. Several of the girls were taunting me about it and I was doing my level best to ignore them. Eventually, one, who thought she was being smart, was standing in front of me flicking the book up into my face, chanting “My friend fucka me and I enjoyed it.” I snapped. I slapped her. Slapped her hard.
For a short while, the bullies backed off.
All the while, my mother and grandmother thought they were reassuring me with that old childhood rhyme. They weren’t. My mum had tried approaching the school’s headmaster about the bullying but that only served to make matters worse. One of the kids in my class saw her in the school and told the others. The bullying became even more vicious and hurtful as a result.
My mum and grandmother changed tack as the time approached for me to start high school. Almost daily during the summer holidays, they attempted to convince me that moving to a bigger school meant more opportunity to make nice, new friends. I just listened to them, knowing in my heart that they were wrong.
My primary school classmates found a new bigger, rougher, tougher audience in high school and, for roughly three years, things were worse than ever. Now, it was the boys more than the girls who were my daily tormentors. There were parts of the school I dreaded passing through.
Things hit an all time low one Tuesday afternoon in my second year. Again, it was during an afternoon break when it happened. I was standing quietly minding my own business outside my English class when a boy in my year from a different class came towards me and, without a word, drew his fist and punched me in the face. I felt my nose break. Apparently, I was supposed to have passed comment on his girlfriend’s new haircut. I hadn’t seen the girl and certainly wasn’t aware that she had changed her hairstyle. Why would I even care? I barely knew her. Sitting through that English lesson, trying to staunch the bleeding and trying not to cry was one of the lowest points I can recall.
Eventually, by the time we were all fourteen or fifteen, the bullies grew bored and moved on. I continued to keep myself to myself for most of the time. I’d hide at lunchbreaks, usually in the assembly hall, and write as my means of coping with my reality.
It was all too late though. The mental and emotional damage had been done and those scars run far deeper than any of the physical ones.
I left school in 1988.
Several years after I left school, one of the worst of the bullies reared his ugly head again. I was walking on my own from the branch of the bank where I was working into the town centre to catch the bus home. Along the way, I passed several pubs and as I approached one of these, The Green Oak, a group of drunk young men stumbled out in front of me. Among them was one of the bullies. He recognised me, even in his drunken state and started yelling, “I know you. We called you the Beast in school!” Before I had time to react, they had surrounded me and were all chanting “Beast! Beast! Beast!” At that moment, the bus I was rushing to catch came down the road. Fortunately, the driver recognised me, stopped the bus in the middle of the road and yelled at me to” get on.” I’ve never been so relieved to get on a bus in my life. In those few terrifying moments, I’d gone from a 22-year-old young woman to a frightened 12-year-old in my head.
2010 marked the year that my class turned 40 and a school reunion was arranged. It was the last event I wanted to go to but I reasoned that by going, I might finally put some of the ghosts to bed and get some closure. Two friends, who felt similarly uneasy about it, suggested we go to together. Safety in numbers and all that. The event was arranged via Facebook and, as the guest list grew, so did my nerves. When I saw one name in particular, the worst of the original bullies, appear, I almost changed my mind about attending. Even on the evening of the event itself, I was in two minds about going. I was feeling physically sick with nerves as I left the house. The reunion was held in the local rugby club and was all going well until that person arrived. A group of us were already seated at a round table with a drink when she walked in with her friends. She was all “huggy/kissy” with the people round the table until she saw me. As I looked at her, I realised she had stopped in her tracks and was looking at me with the same childish hatred from 30 years before. I looked away and she moved off. Even, after all these years…..oh, well, I guess leopards don’t change their spots.
I will never attend another school reunion.
That one long look from her opened up all the old wounds.
Sticks and stone may break your bones, but bones mend. Words scar your soul forever.
On reflection, while the years of abuse that I endured seemed never ending at the time, I was lucky.
I was lucky this all happened pre-internet, pre-mobile phones, pre-social media, pre- group chats.
At least when I went home from school, the bullies couldn’t reach me, unless they phoned the house or turned up at the door.
There is little escape from 21st Century bullying. It’s a 24/7 affair with little or no respite.

As a mother, one of the hardest things to watch and handle as a parent, has been seeing history repeat itself for my Baby Girl.
She’s agreed to tell her tale for this blog for the first time, so, in her own words-

“Through my life, my mum has told me about her school experiences, now I’m going to tell you mine.
“School years are the best years of your life” – absolutely bloody not!
So, let’s start from the beginning of high school. In first year, I was no longer “cool” enough for my primary school friends so I had to find a new friend group. I managed that and, as far as I can remember, the rest of first year was enjoyable (apart from getting glasses)
Second year things started to go belly up. This was the year I discovered how imaginative people can be. I can’t remember how it all began but a very hurtful story was invented by someone ( I still don’t know who) and it spread like wildfire around the school. At first people shouted names and comments at me in the social area. Then I lost all the friends I had just made the year before because nobody wanted to be seen to associate with me. One day I couldn’t face another day of it at school so pretended to be sick to stay home. Peace and quiet – or so I thought. By 4 o’clock the messages started arriving. My favourite message was from a boy I had never spoken to saying “Have you killed yourself yet?”
At 12 years old, I remember sitting on the bathroom floor with a bottle of toilet cleaner in my hand trying to grow the balls to drink it.
This was the first time I wanted to commit suicide. This was just the start.
From then on, I was extremely self-conscious. For the next few years I worked to lose as much weight as possible with the hope of disappearing. I became so weak it got to the point I struggled to stand without help. This simply led to more taunting. I was now “a bag of bones” and “a starving African child”. As you can assume, this led to more self-loathing and concerning behaviour.
At this point, I had new friends and I was in that group until one girl decided she didn’t like me and turned everyone against me. Of course, there were a lot of nasty messages sent. I will admit, I responded with my own unhelpful messages, fuelled by pain and anger.
In fifth year, I found yet another group of friends who were outcasts like myself. The comments from classmates had continued from second year but in my last year I found a new way to cope. I started to suffer from health problems, for which I was prescribed 30/500 co-codamol pills. After a few weeks, I no longer needed them but continued to take 8 a day for 11 weeks just to get through school. Being in a constant dazed medicated state made it a lot easier to ignore the comments.
So, to summarise my school experience, it was filled with: people making abusive comments, receiving horrendous Facebook messages, self-hatred and self-harming behaviours. But, at the end of the day, I can say I made it out alive.
Now, at the age of 18, I have considered suicide at least once per day every day. I have been prescribed strong anti-depressants and am open to the community mental health team. I have nightmares most nights, some about events from school.
But, I have 3 amazing friends and a family who love and support me.
Upon reflection, I am glad this happened to me instead of someone else, because the thought of another person going through it is unbearable. But the sad fact is, this happens to hundreds of thousands of kids every single day.”

I knew my Baby Girl had had a rough time throughout high school. In fact, it started in primary school. I knew about some of the bullying. I knew about some of the Facebook messages because she would screenshot them and send them to me.
There’s a lot though in that story that I never knew until she gave me her story to add to this blog a few days ago. At this point in time, I feel as if I have failed her.
21st century bullying is beyond evil and, selfishly, I’m relieved that it didn’t exist while I was being bullied all those years ago. I don’t believe I have the strength of character to survive it.
There is NO escape from it.
Facebook group chats are the worst vehicle ever for it. Countless times, she would show me message chains where the comments were directed at her. They were beyond vile. They had been sent day and night.
I sat on the local high school’s parent council for seven years so speaking to staff without my daughter’s knowledge was easy but proved to be a complete waste of time. I tried time and again but was always told that the school had no control over online bullying. As far as I witnessed, they had little control over the bullying and harassment going on within the school itself. On the odd occasion, when a teacher would listen, they never acted as bullies have an uncanny knack of being the teachers’ favourites, the “cool” kids.
As a parent, I felt helpless. Utterly helpless.
I failed her.

Neither of us are sharing this with a view to gaining any sympathy.
Neither of us are sharing this to point the finger at the bullies. If they happen to read this and recognise themselves, then I hope they feel at least some remorse for their past actions. Somehow, based on my personal experience of my school reunion, I doubt that they will. I think that’s sad…..tragic.

The reasoning behind speaking up now is that summer’s almost over and kids are going back to school. Bullies will be seeking new vulnerable targets. Some kids will be facing the school year with dread.
For what they are worth, my words of wisdom are:
If you are a parent, be vigilant. Teenagers are experts at hiding things from us.
If you’re a teacher, don’t turn a blind eye and presume that its just kids being kids.
If you’re a target (I hate the word “victim”) stay strong and speak up. Don’t suffer in silence just because its easier. Be yourself. And remember bullies are cowards at heart.
If you’re the bully or you were the bully, I hope you’ve learned something from this and use your time to reflect on the consequences of your actions.
Thank you for listening.

For more information and support on this subject –

https://www.bullying.co.uk/

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/bullying-and-cyberbullying/

https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/feelings-and-symptoms/bullying/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/bullying/

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Alphabet Thoughts….

 

letters

 

A thought struck me while I was proofreading and spellchecking Book Baby 4 aka Ellen.

Now, this may be a thought that’s already struck you so apologies if I’m late to the party here.

The thought?

Well, what struck me was what an incredible thing the alphabet is. You take twenty-six wee letters and by rearranging them into various combinations you get words, lots and lots of different words.

The word count for Book Baby 4 is around 106 000 give or take a couple of hundred (still tweaking!). That’s approximately 500 000 letters. That’s a lot of combinations of those wee letters of the alphabet.

And do you know what’s even more incredible? No? Well, that’s the first time that those 500 000 letters have been used in that specific combination, making Book Baby 4 unique.

“She’s lost it this time!” I hear you cry but pause for a moment and think about it. Think about all the great works of fiction, the classics, the award-winning novels, adult fiction, children’s stories….. I could go on but I’m sure you get the hint. Each and every one of them is a unique collection of those twenty-six wee letters combined to make words that are then strung together to make sentences.

Those sentences might be short and simple or long and complex containing may clauses but, at the end of the day, they are a combination of twenty-six wee letters combined to make words that allow authors to tell a story. How incredible is that?

Now, I am not for a second comparing my creative efforts to the literary greats but we all have one thing in common – we each started with a blank page/screen and had the same twenty-six wee letters to play with.

Using those twenty-six wee letters you can create scenes that invoke an emotional response in the person reading the resulting story. You can make people laugh. You can make people cry. You can make people angry. You can make people calm. You can make people happy. How powerful is that?

And, even more incredible, those same twenty-six wee letters can be used to create different languages used around the world. We use the Latin alphabet to write in English. That same alphabet forms the basis for around 6000 languages that  use additional diacritics (those squiggles above and below certain letters) to enhance them.

And to think, each an every one of us from wee me to Shakespeare, to Emily Bronte, to JK Rowling (no, I’m not comparing my ability to theirs)started out the same way – learning how to hold the pen to write our own name.

 

(image sourced via Google – credits to the owner)

Nap time…..

If I was a cat right now, this would be me……  ha ha

Normal blog nonsense will resume next week once I’ve caught up with myself 😉

 

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A Mouse’s Tale….

mouse

When I set off for my lunchtime meander today, I was lost in my own thoughts. The ear buds were in, my music was playing and I was over thinking and over analysing just about everything in my world. With every step, I was withdrawing further and further into myself and was truly living up to the Introvert aspect of my INFJ personality type.

Instead of my usual waterfront route, I decided to head towards the nearby marina. The sun was shining. There was even some warmth to it. The major drawback of that particular lunchtime route is that it runs along the main road and the traffic is horrendous. Not really a problem as there are no roads to cross. It just means I need to crank up the volume on the iPod and enjoy breathing in exhaust fumes for a few minutes.

I was halfway to the marina when something flew onto the pavement to my right then ran across my path. It then stopped and looked at me. I stopped and looked at it. Ok, confession, I spoke to it too.

It was a tiny mouse.

I expected it to vanish as quickly as it had appeared but it didn’t.

It stayed beside me, keeping close to the brick wall to my left.

Watching it scurry along, stopping every few metres to glance back, almost as if it was checking I was keeping up, made me forget all the “junk” that had been clogging my mind.

The mouse was moving too fast for me to get its photo. I tried and failed. I did catch a couple of seconds of video though.

 https://youtu.be/2EItC00KDQU  

For over a hundred metres it ran along beside me and I found myself wondering where it was going. Was there a wee mouse family waiting for it somewhere nearby? Was it on the run from a predator? Was this a fitness freak mouse out for some exercise?

My mind gradually drifted away from the thoughts that had been troubling me as I recalled my mum reading to me when I was a wee girl, reading one of my favourite storybooks, Timmy Mouse.

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Timmy Mouse tells the tale of Timmy’s attempts to find someone to adopt his baby sister and care for her after their parents failed to return from a foraging expedition. He realises that its too much responsibility for him to look after himself and the baby but he wants to make sure she is safe and cared for. I’ll not spoil the story but let’s say all ends well.

An incoming message on my phone distracted me for a few seconds – just long enough for Timmy Mouse to vanish. I assume he disappeared through a crack in the wall to safety.

With my own mood now somewhat lighter, I continued on my merry way, wondering where he had gone to and what adventures awaited him on the far side of the wall.

 

Snow Stopped Play…..or did it?

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I hate snow! I hate being cold!

Love it or hate it, Mother Nature dumped  more snow than I have ever seen on the area a few days ago. In the end, a whopping 16inches fell on our garden.

The world ground to a halt instantly…. well the road had disappeared for a start (it’s in the background behind the metre stick in the photo…honest!)

Cue furious digging to excavate the cars in the hope that a snow plough would rediscover the road. Hours and hours of digging – and at that point we didn’t own a snow shovel. Boy Child worked tirelessly for most of the day digging with the garden spade, the garden fork and the giant outdoor brush. I couldn’t watch him struggle on his own so for several hours I joined him in his excavation efforts.

snow collage

This prompted a debate about the correct way to hold a fork or a spade. We were both holding it differently and it appears that I dig left handed, much to his amusement. Does it matter as long as it works? ha ha

The road still hadn’t been cleared and there was no way I was attempting to drive on the packed rutted snow.

Friday morning came….. there had been more snow overnight and the driveway we had cleared was white again. NO!!! We still couldn’t get out.

Cue more furious digging to excavate the car again and to clear the driveway in the hope the snow plough would clear a safe path out.

Eventually the snow plough arrived. We were free!!!!

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Saturday morning came….. a light dusting of snow overnight but we were still clear to escape. Thankful to be out of the house and the street I headed off to do the weekly supermarket shop. That turned out to be mission impossible due to empty shelves in the local supermarket thanks to panic buying and lack of deliveries due to the weather. I did my best. We weren’t about to starve. I failed on the bread mission but hey ho who needs toast!  I reached the conclusion though that some locals seemed intent on a diet of chocolate Easter Eggs judging by the number in their shopping trolleys!

Next on the shopping list was a snow shovel! Boy Child had only cleared two thirds of the driveway and we still had a fair amount of snow to dig out. Snow shovels were almost as rare a commodity as bread!

Feeling optimistic Girl Child and I headed to the local garden centre in search of a snow shovel.

Now the garden centre is across the road from the beach…..I couldn’t resist the lure of a snowy beach walk. The bay was virtually deserted. There was one lone fisherman in his waders up to his waist in the river and one dog walker. I didn’t venture far along the beach. It was knee deep in snow and too uneven to walk safely on. The small area of woodland wasn’t much safer underfoot.

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The picnic area was largely untouched snow. It was just begging for someone to leave a “snow angel” on it.

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I couldn’t resist. 🙂

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Sometimes you have to just channel that inner child and play in the snow!

We did  manage to purchase a snow shovel (once I’d figured out how to stand up without ruining my snow angel!)

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I’m still on a mission for that loaf of bread ……

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January……

motivation collage

January – the first month of the year when you are supposed to feel motivated and energised to take on the challenges of the year to come.  Eh……maybe not!

January – cold dark month lasting at least 96 soul draining days…… I jest (slightly)

Did I feel motivated and ready to take on 2018 31 days ago? I thought so…..

In the spirit of honesty, I’ll confess to having struggled with my own  creative motivation   this month. The stresses and strains of every day life may have been a contributory factor or I may just be making excuses…who knows! We are now at the end of January and I’ve not met the goals I had in my head at the turn of the year and I’m mad at myself.

As part of the “day job” in the “salt mine” I’ve been delivering coaching sessions to my team to encourage them to think about what motivates them in a work sense and to think about what areas they wish to develop themselves in. I’ve now delivered the same session, tweaked to the individual, fourteen times.  It struck me earlier that I needed to deliver it one more time. I needed to deliver it to myself!

I’ll not bore you with the ins and outs of it all but the focus of the coaching was a motivational triangle. The three sides represent Clear, Capable and Motivated. Is it Clear what’s expected of you? Are you Capable of meeting these expectations/goals? Are you Motivated to succeed?

I paused for some self-reflection as I went for my lunchtime meander in the cold. A bit of soul-searching.

And the result……

Clear – YES I am clear of the expectation /goal I have set myself. I need to finish the first draft of book baby 4.

Capable – YES I am capable of achieving this. I need to remain focussed and not “waste” the time deviating off at a tangent and writing other pieces.

Motivated – YES I will finish this! I have invested too much time in the project to abandon it at the last gasp. It is so close to being finished in reality.

So, without further ado…. I have a book to finish! ….. Goodbye January. Hello February!

The End Is In Sight…..of my tether that is!

end-of-the-tether

It’s Monday and this isn’t a good sign….. I’ve reached the end of my tether!

Anyone who knows me will appreciate that I generally quite a patient person. Some of you might even say too patient but occasionally even I reach the end of my rope.

So where does the phrase come from and what does it really mean?

A little research ( not got the patience for extensive research this evening) revealed it’s a phrase used mainly in the USA and UK. It means to have reached the end of your patience, to be completely worn out, exasperated or exhausted.

So. What’s a tether in this context? Cue more Googling – a rope used to restrict the freedom of grazing animals by tying one end around their neck and the other to a stake in the ground.

tethered pony

 

Hmmmm…….

 

Pass me the scissors or a knife….this tether is being cut!

Normally to soothe me frayed nerves I would head out for a walk along the beach but its kind of cold and dark out there right now.

Virtual beach walk required before I settle down to continue the tale that’s shaping up to be Book Baby 4.

 http://livebeaches.com/rehoboth-beach-de/webcams/rehoboth-beach-boardwalk/

 I can almost feel the sand between my toes…..

 

(images sourced via Google – credits to the owners)