If you are bullied at school, you see, you never stop feeling bullied, no matter how old you are. It is absurd that I am 41 years of age and a group of women can still reduce me to tears. To be fair to the bullies, I was an awkward, argumentative, pedantic nerd of a schoolgirl. I know, shocking isn’t it?
To make things worse, I arrived at secondary school from a convent primary not knowing any swear-words. The way I expressed myself — arguing pompously with the other students, arguing pompously with the teachers, and spending lunchtimes in the piano practice rooms playing Bach two-part inventions — didn’t come into its own until the sixth form when I was suddenly declared achingly cool.
Another girl found me hammering away like Geoffrey Rush in Shine one afternoon and was taken by the idea that being a pedantic nerd was the new black. I was elevated to the status of ‘loveable geek’ and students would come to watch me playing Bach while they ate their sandwiches.
Up until then it had been miserable. I used to lock myself in the girls’ loo rather than go to assembly because there wasn’t a single person in the entire school who would stand next to me.
It was a mixed school but, just as the lioness does the hunting, the girls did the bullying while the lazy-ass boys just enjoyed the show. Shouting my name, then, when I looked round, pretending no one had called me, I seem to remember, was their favourite torment.
Whenever I am pitched into new surroundings involving women now I am a nervous, hyper-vigilant wreck. In this respect, my secondary education might as well have been a tour of duty in the Mekong Delta.
Thirty years later, the slightest little thing can tip me over the edge. When I moved my horses to a new stable yard a few months ago, I was plunged into a blind panic when two of the other female horse-owners approached me and asked me if I would please buy some loo roll, because there was a rota, and I was now on it. ‘And we don’t like the cheap stuff, we want quilted!’ laughed one of the women, obviously joking. Quaking in my boots, I rushed off to Waitrose and bought the biggest, most expensive pack of luxury toilet paper there was and placed it in the loo with shaking hands.
All went quiet, until I got myself mildly reprimanded for not doing enough paddock cleaning. I’ve sprained my elbow, using a ball-thrower for the dog. So the builder boyfriend has been doing all my s**t-shovelling (that’s a technical term). Perhaps it has been noted that I don’t do it myself, I thought, my paranoia rising like a tidal wave. Perhaps it has been decided that I am a spoilt, silly brat from convent school who is too precious and weak to join in with the others…Mayday! Mayday!
Things came to a head one evening, as the builder boyfriend and I were sitting down to dinner and I got a text from one of the girls asking me to clear a third of the field of poo by the end of the week.
I stared into my sausage and mash dolefully. I put a piece of sausage in my mouth, swallowed, sobbed and got the sausage piece stuck. ‘It’s not f-f-f-f-fair…e-hargh!’ I spluttered. ‘Oh…(hiccup, gulp, cough)…nobody likes meeeeeeeee!’
‘Stop it!’ said the builder, firmly. ‘Eat your sausages.’
‘I…(gulp, sob)…can’t…oh (gulp, sob)…why does nobody li-i-i-i-i-ike meeeeeee…’ Tears were coming down my nose, along with small sausage pieces.
‘For goodness sake! Nobody has any opinion on you at all. They just want the paddock cleaned.’
But I was back in the piano practice rooms. Or possibly the Vietnam jungle. Wherever I was, someone was playing Bach’s two-part invention in F. ‘I don’t like my m-mashed potat-at-o-o-o-o…,’ I sobbed. ‘It’s lu-u-umpeeeeeeee!’
Oh dear. I was 12 again. No wait, that wasn’t right. I definitely felt younger than 12. I was five, I reckon. I had catapulted myself back to a time before I became the most unpopular girl in the school and got pelted with paper missiles. A time when I could cry about my mashed potato and someone would make it right.
‘Eat your dinner, you silly girl,’ said the builder, realising something rum had happened. ‘Tomorrow I will clear all the poo from the field and the other girls will be pleased with you. Alright?’
‘Y-y-y-(hiccup)-yes,’ I sobbed.
But I don’t just want them to be pleased. I want them to love me. I’ve got to make them realise that being a nerdy hypochondriac with tennis elbow is actually really cool.