By Jayne Pickard
Someone on Facebook has just called me a bully, just for having an opinion. Now, anyone who knows me knows that that is something I would never be, nor could ever be. I abhor bullying and I will tell you why.
At the age of 11, just before senior school, I was safe in my little cocoon of happiness known as junior school, Hargher Clough, Burnley. I was so excited about going to the Co-op and buying my grey and blue uniform, the leather satchel and filling that satchel with books instead of leaving them at school.
I was a plump child, which my well-meaning parents and grandparents in their naivety and love told me was ‘puppy fat,’ I had auburn hair, blue NHS glasses and horror of horrors, I was top of the top class and in every subject. But should that have made me a target for bullying?
I started in form 1A3 at Ivy Bank Secondary Modern School, Burnley, in September 1971 and to begin with I made new friends and things were good. My lessons went well, reports were still filled with praise and I was happy until second year when the bullying began.
At first it was name calling ‘Pick a card’ ‘Fat cow’ and ‘Hey ginner!’ It hurt, of course it hurt, but the teachers when I told them said: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me,” and because of that I withdrew further and further into myself.
My parents owned an off-licence cum grocers at Rosegrove traffic lights on Accrington Road in Burnley and they were going through a bit of a tough time. My dad had amputated his fingers in an accident at work the previous summer and even though they tried not to show us kids how much they were struggling, they were, and so I kept quiet. I spent each evening after school in my room
doing homework and then reading my favourite escapism, Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers or Famous Five books, while listening to Radio Luxembourg or David Cassidy.
Each day I went into school, dreading what that day would bring. Nights were filled with dreams of name-calling and yes, bed wetting, which I covered up to the best of my ability.
I took to walking to school with my next-door neighbour Diane Gaughan, who stood up to them and I was protected. But she couldn’t do that in school, because she was a couple of years older than me.
I would wait to walk home with her at the end of the school day. One particular night she wasn’t there to help me, and so, because it was cold (It was December) I caught the school bus. The moment I stepped onto that vehicle the taunts began; I tried hard to ignore them and prayed for my stop to get here quickly.
Rosegrove traffic lights loomed and my stop was just after, around the corner on Accrington Road, so I rose from my seat and began to thread my way through the throng. I remember to this day the feeling of burning on the back of my leg as I stood waiting to get off; the little so-and-so’s found it hilarious to burn my legs with their cigarettes.
Quite how I walked off that bus and waited to cross the busy main road, all the while seeing their taunting faces at the window, I do not know. But I did. When I stumbled through the door my mum was in the shop serving someone and I made my way to the kitchen to bathe my legs. Mum called up the steps from the shop asking me to make her a cup of tea and I did as she asked, wondering how I could hide my pain; they were stinging like heck.
Of course she noticed my pain and made me show her and from that moment, she went ballistic. The police were called, our friend and neighbour Kath Sutcliffe asked to help in the shop and things moved quickly.
The next day I went to school as normal, dreading seeing the perpetrators. Assembly passed, registration passed and just before first break I was called to see Mr Brunton, the headmaster, in his office. In there was the police officer from the night before, Mr Brunton, and my form teacher. I was asked the names of the girls and as I told them, (and I will never forget this), Mr Brunton looked at me in disbelief, shook his head and told me: “Are you sure? The girls you name are good girls, from good families. Be careful whom you accuse. Are you certain that it was them?”
He didn’t believe me!
I don’t know to this day what happened to those girls, because my family moved back to Keighley not long after the incident, but as with most bullying, their taunts and actions stayed with me to this day.
When my girls, Lisa and Laura, started school I hoped that things had moved on and that bullying would be a thing of the past; how wrong could I be? They seemed to go through primary and
junior school (St Joseph’s, Keighley), without much problem. Lisa is a redhead and was like me, outgoing and plump; Laura was shy and introvert with blonde hair, complete opposites; both inherited my brains and had their own talents in the arts; Lisa art and drawing, Laura writing and storytelling.
As ever, it was once they got to secondary school that the problems began.
In the beginning, Lisa was put with her friends from St Joseph’s, and it was that which made the bullying that began worse…it was her supposed friends! She began having health problems, mainly with her knee joints, and the more time she had away from school, the more the bullying went on when she went back.
When I went up to school I got a similar reaction to the names as I had all those years ago: “But they’re such nice girls!”
In the end she left school early and went to college to finish her education. Laura was a different story altogether and it involved our own family. As a quiet and shy girl who didn’t take change well, secondary school was a huge upheaval for her to start with, but when there was a major fall-out between my brother and my parents and Laura suffered the consequences.
It was relentless, her own cousins and their friends, making phone calls, sending texts, spreading rumours at school and making her life sheer hell.
She contemplated suicide at one point, storing up painkillers given to her for her own joint problem, and school again didn’t believe that ‘such nice girls, family to boot, would do such a thing’ and we got no support whatsoever. I pulled her out of school and home educated her at 14. She now writes and is my full-time carer, but still as shy and quiet at 28 as she was then.
Recently it was thought that my five-year-old grandson Joseph was being bullied in a subtle way. Five! No age is it? How on earth can a five-year-old know about ignoring someone, not including them in games and generally making someone feel unwanted?
He has inherited the red hair, but it doesn’t bother him. He is the happiest, sunniest, friendliest little boy you could ever wish to meet. He will talk to anyone and runs into that playground with enthusiasm every morning.
So one day when he was crying all the way there and dragging his feet, my daughter Lisa thought that he was being bullied. The difference is this; his teacher was quick to react. In class she gave a lesson on leaving people out and what being friends meant.
The following day I took him to school. “Is everything all right at school sweetheart?” I asked him, all concerned.
“Yes Grammy, everything is fine,” he reassured me and ran off to meet his friends! What a difference a decade and a bit makes, eh?
So, bullying, not big and not clever, yet thanks to the WWW, it is rife. Technology seems to make people feel invincible. They say what they like, to whom they want, behind a keyboard and screen, hurting feelings and being so nasty, little caring the impact their words are having and then moving on to their next victim.
Imagine if you will, you are in the warmth of your home, typing an innocent status on social media and then getting notification that there is a reply. You click on it and what greets you is a barrage of personal remarks, making you feel worthless and yes, angry at first.
Then you start a reply. Just what the bully wants; a reaction! And so it continues. Words get nasty and out of hand, others sometimes join in (what happened to me recently), and then just as quickly, it stops. How good does that person doing the bullying feel to know that they have succeeded in upsetting someone? They feel fantastic. The victim on the other hand is left feeling hurt and bewildered. Those bullies who burned my legs 42 years ago, I wonder if they ever think back and think about how their actions affected me? Probably not.
I believe in Karma and everything happening for a reason. Do good and it comes back to you, do bad and Karma will see to it that bad comes back to you. I’m not a vindictive person by any means, but if someone has hurt me, I do love to hear that something has happened to them! Does that make me a bully? No, it makes me human. It makes me someone who will help anyone, anywhere, whether I know that person or not. It makes me someone who likes to see justice done. It makes me want to see good in the world and good things happening to good people. Does that happen? You bet it does!
At the beginning of this article I said that I had been accused of being a bully on Facebook. Opinionated and strongminded, yes, but never a bully. Now you know why after reading my family story.
Would I ever bully? Of course I wouldn’t!
That lady took my trying to explain something to her as not wanting to be wrong. The more I tried to explain, the more she argued back, eventually calling me nasty, a bully and a freak.
In school I was the intelligent girl, praised by the teachers and insecure about her weight and wearing glasses. With my girls it was weight issues and lack of confidence. With Joseph his was over-confidence and innocence. But at least things seem to have moved on in school and long may it continue.
Social media on the other hand has a lot to answer for. The written word is open to interpretation. An innocent remark read the wrong way becomes a weapon for the bully to use against you. Workplace bullying also goes on of course. The odd remark to a colleague about hours worked or leaving them out of weekend plans, all make someone feel bad. Anything which makes another
human being feel like they are worthless, is wrong in every conceivable way. Children have taken their own lives because of it. It needs to end, and it needs to end quickly.
So, if you are a bully or were a bully and you’re reading this, have you ever stopped to think about what your actions did to your victim? Did you go home at the end of the school, or indeed work, day and feel proud of yourself?
Or did you have a shred of remorse for leaving that person in tears, maybe battered and bruised, feeling like they were worthless? Did you ever stop to think how it made that person feel… ever?
No, of course you didn’t and that is what makes it even worse. Those girls who bullied me probably have children and grandchildren of their own now.
I wonder how they felt if their offspring came home scared to go back to school the following day. Did they think back to 1972 and that auburn-haired girl with blue NHS glasses, the one they burned on the backs of her legs?
Or did they march up to school and ask for answers? Did they expect to get things resolved immediately? I bet they did; a bully always expects to come up Top Dog!
Can a bully change? I would like to think so. My mum once told me that a bully is someone who is insecure about something themselves or they feel threatened by their victim in some way. More often than not they work in a gang, feeling big and brave, egged on by their peers to carry on making the victim feel upset and I suppose she was right. There is no age limit as this has proved; a bully will do whatever they have to do to make you feel bad. Well, my friend, not this ‘victim.’ This worm has turned!