If you have ever been bullied – and I have – you never forget what it feels like.
You dread walking to and from school. You hide out at play time and school breaks.
Other kids shun you until the bullies move onto their next victim.
You feel bad because you feel relieved when someone else gets picked on.
You feel sorry for them, but you’re too scared to show it.
Sometimes you even join in the laughter because you want to be seen to be belonging.
Don’t kid yourself it ends in adulthood. The politics of the playground still prevail in later life – even TV series celebrate forms of bullying… if you watch the alpha males and females competing to become top dog in management.
We all know a workplace bully or the big shot in the pub or club who passes off toxic comments as “banter”. We all know institutionalised bullying still exists. We may even be that bully or part of his or her support system.
Bully for you?
Not for me. I’m old enough and ugly enough to blow the whistle these days. When push comes to shove I’ll stand my ground – although being a woman I’ll have a bloody good cry about it later in the Ladies.
For me, bullying ended at high school. The bullies moved with me but they were small fry for newly confident second years flexing their status. By then, I’d learned words could be mightier than swords – and that judo helped too.
I got new friends who stuck by me, even when I let them down by becoming a prefect – and when I got drummed out of that role in disgrace.
I’d acquired a new bully but saw her off on the pub car park (“FIGHTTTTT!!!”)over the road after school. She was called Fred, short for Freda, and it flattered her.
I bent all the rules learned on the dojo of the Keidokwai judo club. One tomoe nage (stomach throw) ended weeks of oppression and name calling. The fall broke her tooth. The deputy head was visibly shocked to find one of his history aces – me – bloodied from battle.
These days, if I threw my stomach I’d take out an entire training session of Sumo wrestlers…
I don’t recommend resorting to violence. Play by the rules. Report bullying to parents/teachers/employers/friends/union leaders/HR. Don’t put up with it.
But I had to find that fine line between standing up for myself and running home to mum in tears – for mine had been bullied herself and for much the same reasons.
She’d been the London kid in a Wigan school, beat the Blitz, only to have the daylights beaten out of her by pie-eating thugs.
I was the scouser, with a Liverpool accent so thick (and brains, they thought, to match) that the headteacher at my primary advised me to lose the accent “to fit in”.
He said much the same to a well-spoken child who was also being bullied. Educating Blackpool, eh? I’ve shaved my ‘highbrow’, sir, what do you think of it?
More than 300 youngsters gathered in Blackpool this week to join anti-bullying ambassadors at the Diana Award conference, run in conjunction with Blackpool Council and Facebook.
Anti-bullying begins in the home. But you need a stable home.
Teach kids it’s wrong. Encourage them to help the vulnerable. Children can be cruel, but most have an inherent sense of fair play.
They are up against a far more insidious threat today. I had kids throwing stones at me to and from school and lurking to ambush me, but I didn’t carry the bully with me at every step – right into the home and even the bedroom. Cyber-bullying has immediate impact. Some see no escape.
Many of us have had to fend off a troll on Twitter or blocked a so-called Facebook ‘friend’ and reported them –but, for some kids, every day is a waking nightmare and they can’t even turn off the threat at night.
Some, including locally, have committed suicide rather than endure the torment.
I’m a different person today because I was bullied as a child – and I now know the experience made me stronger and more resilient in many ways. But I still feel sick inside at the memory.
The other day I told a little boy who was being bullied: it will get better, it will stop, you will get through this, and over this. But one day you may even come to laugh at it? No. Absolutely not.
We have to make bullying stop. The best way is to let children show us how.
Space story has been harpooned
I’ve been writing a series of short stories for kids.
One of them is about a tiny alien who lives under a rock on a small comet – a sort of cosmic cowboy riding through the universe at 40,000 miles an hour.
Blame the influence of the late great Carl Sagan, whose epoch-making Cosmos series is being rescreened on one of the channels I’ve discovered since quitting full-time journalism.
And now I’m going to have to come up with an unhappy ending. Because there’s every chance a rather precarious looking satellite shaped like a tower block and the size of an armchair may have landed on his two and a half mile wide rocky lair… and plunged two harpoons through him in order to anchor it there.
To add insult to injury, they are going to relay every move back to Planet Earth.
If you see my little alien – say hello. Or, sing Rosetta are you better, are you well, well, well?