LADYBIRD (LIFE WRITING)
“You trod on our ladybird.”
“No, I did not.”
“Yes you did.”
“No, I never.”
“She trod on our ladybird.”
But I wouldn’t have done that, I couldn’t have done. Well, not deliberately anyway. Of course, I had walked all over the infant school playground: that’s all I ever did. On my own, every play-time.
On my own, of course, except for two persistent girls, in the year below me, who hounded me every single day at break time:
“Ugh, I don’t like your dress.”
“Ugh, I don’t like your shoes.”
What harm was I doing to them? All I was doing was walking around the playground. Sometimes, I wasn’t even walking. On sunny days, I’d look down at the ground and try as slowly and as carefully as I could to step out of my shadow. And, perhaps, if I could just move my foot this way and that, and then lift it up, then I could actually break away from my shadow altogether.
I don’t even know why I wanted to step out of my shadow. After all, it was my only companion….
What was it about this shy, lonely, quiet child that attracted such unnecessary and unwanted attention?
“What are you doing, looking at the ground?”
“Nothing. I’m just trying to step out of my shadow….”
“Step out of your shadow? You’re crazy”
Every play time, day after day after day …..
I was sick to the stomach and not just metaphorically. One evening, on the way home in the school taxi, I was thoroughly, shamefully and disgracefully sick.
And it was all the more shameful because I was right outside my house at the time. A couple of more minutes, and I could have squeezed out from between my schoolfellows in the back of the car and made it to the pavement. But, unfortunately, it just didn’t happen that way.
“She was sick in the car last night,” yelled one of my persecutors the next day, who had witnessed the whole thing.
“She was sick? Ugh. Ugh,” and they promptly proceeded to go round the playground, telling every single person who was in earshot.
But, at least, with that, they avoided me for a whole week: whether it was because they were simply disgusted by me or whether they were scared of catching some dreadful disease, I don’t know. But, at least, it gave me a reprieve until the next week, when it all began again.
“But, why don’t you have any brothers or sisters?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t ….”
“Well, why don’t you get your mummy and daddy to go the shop and buy one?”
I’d had enough. In the end, I told my parents. My dad came into the school playground with me one morning. He spoke to the girls and asked them firmly to leave me alone. Temporarily emboldened by his presence, I told them defiantly:
“And babies don’t come from the shop, they come from the hospital.”
There, that shut them up. For another week…
Sometimes, I tried to seek refuge with the other children but it was really difficult. It was only the popular girls who were invited to join in the games of skipping and elastic.
“House for Sale
If you’d don’t buy now
Mrs Wilkinson will come in.”
The surname chosen was always that of whichever boy the girl fancied at the time, amidst much giggling and laughter from her companions.
There was only one way to be included in their games.
“Please can I join in? I’ll hold the end all the time,” I’d plead, and occasionally, they would allow me.
“Salt, Mustard, Vinegar, Pepper
French Almond Rock
Bread and Butter for your supper’s
All your Mother’s got.”
But it didn’t last long. After all, there were already girls who held the permanent positions of turning the ends of the skipping rope or standing with the elastic round their ankles so that the other girls could jump in. Although not high up enough in the pecking order to join in the actual game, at least, they had the kudos of being involved in a humble capacity, a position which they guarded zealously.
It was all so hard. I mean, I hadn’t even wanted to go to school in the first place.
“You’ll be starting school, soon,” my mother had encouraged, a year previously.
“I don’t want to go to school,” I protested, in a cry which would soon become my constant morning refrain on school days.
“You’ll like school. Couisn Stephen goes to school.”
Of course, what she neglected to tell me was that Stephen, at three years older than me, was already in the neighbouring junior school. It was in vain that I tried to claw my way through the railings which separated my infant school from his junior school to look for him to see if he could help me to escape my tormentors. But he was always way at the back of his playground, immersed in a noisy game of football with his fellow schoolmates.
No, help if it was ever to arrive would not come from that source. But, in my dreams, help would come one day. Batman and Robin would turn up in the Batmobile. They’d come into the classroom, look at the list of names on the wall, and they’d pick me – actually pick me – to go off with them and have adventures. How I dreamed of that day, and hoped with all my heart that it would come very soon.
But, apart from those wretched break-times, I was actually doing well at school. I enjoyed reading the Janet and John books, despite their very specific gender roles: Janet is helping Mummy in the kitchen, John is helping Daddy with the car. And then the Ladybird books, jam-packed with knowledge and wonder: The Ladybird book of Pets, The Ladybird book of Things to Make, The Ladybird book of I Spy …
And then, finally, I found a friend in my class: Jimmy: a really, lovely, little dark-haired boy. We sat together every day in class, reading, doing sums using long, wooden, coloured bars, drawing pictures …
We started getting closer until he actively started to seek me out at playtime.
And then, one day, when we were both swinging round a pole in the playground, we found ourselves standing face to face, and then he leaned forward and kissed me. I was so happy at last and Johnny promised he was going to marry me when we grew up. It was all sorted – a done deal…
This euphoria lasted several days until, one day, a tall, plump girl, from the year above came bearing down on me.
“Open wide,” she commanded.
“What?” I replied.
“Open your mouth.”
So I did: in surprise, as much as anything else.
“You’ve got no front teeth,” she said, examining the wide gap in my mouth where my front milk teeth used to be.
“So?” I quivered.
“Repeat after me: all I want for Xmas is my two front teeth.”
“No, I won’t,” I shouted defiantly.
“Say it …”
“Then I’ll ask Jimmy not to marry you ….”
But she couldn’t. She wouldn’t, would she?
And, then from the next playtime, Jimmy no longer came to find me. And instead, I saw him chasing after Wendy as fast as his little legs would carry him…
Which just left me back in the playground, sadder and lonelier than before and, as the Gilbert O’Sullivan song said: “Alone Again, Naturally.”
I don’t know whatever happened to my tormentors. I have no memory of them after infant school, and thankfully, despite recalling all their teasing, cannot even remember their names. I guess they went on to lead happy lives, marry and have children. I wonder whether, decades later, they ever think back and feel sorry for how they behaved or whether they have completely forgotten.
These days, I read recently, things are very different at my former school. They have a new special scheme where any child who is lonely, and who has no-one to play with at break-time, can sit on a designated bench, and some specially-appointed, responsible games monitors will come and collect them and start up a game with them. It’s a wonderful scheme and one for which they deservedly won a top award.
Yes, these days, happily, they are very kind to the children at my old school, and I, in turn, am always very kind to ladybirds.
For advice on preventing school bullying, visit http://www.kidscape.org.uk/