Friday, February 3, 2012

1978: Standing on the outside

If you were to sit down and test me, I could still name you all 32 people in my class - or tutor group as it was known back. Well, you don't do five years with these people day in, day out and not have them imprinted on your memory for ever, for better or worse.

Luckily, we were all quite pally really. Well, I say all. There was one poor girl who for some reason, no one liked. Is there a child like that in every class in every year in every school, or is it more rare than we think?

Thinking back on it now, this poor girl was totally harmless. She was small and thin, with curly hair and didn't say a lot. But she didn't smell, she wasn't rude and there was nothing outwardly wrong with except she was a bit thick. This didn't seem to sit well with the girls. Perhaps they were worried it might rub off. The boys couldn't really have cared less, not mixing as such in those early years. But the girls were cruel.

When one girl, a plump and plain do-gooder who lived in a bungalow off the main road and who is now a cookery teacher in Essex was spotted walking to and from school with the class pariah, and was swiftly and passive-agressively asked why she was doing this, the message being: this should stop. Now.

Our form teacher Mrs Murray, who - let's be honest - smelt vaguely of wee and didn't do her make-up properly, closed the classroom door one day while this girl was off sick and told us all we had to be nice to her. Her mother had been to the school and said her daughter felt isolated. A pang of guilt ping-ponged around the room, and the following weeks saw a thaw of sorts, but nothing really changed.

Ths girl kept bright and busy. When the third year came along and everyone was put into groups with others from the same year we'd hitherto not had much contact with, she at last made a friend called Karen.

I last bumped into her in 1983 when on a visit to the pub in my hometown she was there with that friend, and she smiled and waved at me. I was confident I'd not done anything awful to her, but as a member of the class who more or less sent her to Coventry for five years, I was complicit in what really amounted to bullying. Or was it that I was simply busy with my own life? We all had our crosses to bear back then after all.

Children can be terribly crue, and there's not one of us out there who can honestly say they've never felt utterly wretched at some stage during our schooldays. I know I have. But it was never on such a scale. I'd like to think this girl is doing fine now, and hasn't let those awful years blight her life.

This song always makes think of her. This is for you, Kelly, wherever you are.


  1. Our equivalent was Jaye Lagsding. Pictured here bottom right in the school photo. She had an orphan Annie curly mop (in brunnette), Mary Whitehouse specs and eyebrows like Kelly Jones. The rumor - possibly embellished - was her cat (a birthday present) had bolted through the door and been run over on the very day she was given it.

    And at the school disco where everyone was kitted out in punk, two tone or generic trendy-wear - Jaye hovered about in a Hinge and Bracket full length evening gown in navy blue, with a clutch bag like she was ready to meet the Queen at the Royal Variety

    In a funny way she seemed to enjoy any jokes directed at her and was always quick with the comebacks. She came to one of the school reunions ('99) and looked fab. Still had the eyebrows - but had found her style and was busy as a social worker..

    I hate to take the gloss of the good stuff - but she pops up on the Dear Dairy entries somewhere as I peeped through gap into the girls showers and got an eyeful of Jaye

  2. There were several pariahs at my junior school, all of them female and all of them from 'troubled' families where the Dads were especially violent and/or the Mums had long-since run off back to Galway. Poor Marie Judd was the most put-upon of them all, with her dirty clothes, biscuit smell and head lice. I've no idea what kind of person she actually was, of course, because to risk a conversation with her would be to risk ostracism yourself (and as I wasn't one of the pretty, popular girls anyway, my currency wasn't sufficiently strong for me to take the gamble.). The best I can say is that I never actually joined in with the taunting and sneering. Not really good enough.

    My turn to be ostracised came in the first term of senior school, when I got ejected from a 'triangle' composed of me and the only two other girls to have come from my junior school. It was an absolutely miserable time, though on reflection it only lasted a few weeks while I desperately cultivated some new friends. But it was horrible. Girls are horrible.