An extract from the diary of my 12 year-old self…

9/6/88 – Thursday

Every year in [our town] at the Gala day their is a swimming gala where every school enters a team of 6 girls and six boys and we have races etc. Lisa (who is now my best friend along with Laurie) decided to enter for the trials. Julie and Laurie took us down to the pool along with my mum and we got changed and went into the pool. Lucy (who doesn’t like me for some strange reason) and Angie were also their there at the trials along with Kelly (a primary six girl) but we were the only girls their there. [At some point between the start of this entry and this sentence, I apparently learned the difference between ‘there’ and ‘their’ – AT LAST!] We got changed and then Mrs H (who was testing us) took down our names. She told us that we would all be in the team because their [Aaaannd it’s gone...] was supposed to be 6 girls in the team and there were only 5 of us.

[This was literally the ONLY reason I made the team, and I seem to remember there being some debate about whether I should be allowed in, even then. I was REALLY bad at swimming, as you’re about to find out…]

We done 2 lengths to warm up and then [they] paired us up to time us . I had to go with a primary 6 boy called Lewis and we had to do front crawl, which I am not very good at. We had to dive in, and race for 2 lengths doing front crawl. She said Go! and we started. When I dived in my goggles slid down until they were over my eyes, trapping them shut. I didn’t have time to fix them so I kept going. I went in a diagonal across the pool and when I got to the end and stood up to turn at the bottom of the pool I felt really dizzy and staggered about before I could start again, I eventually finished but was very embarrassed! I finished in 1.15 seconds and most other people finished in about one min. [I’m guessing I mean I finished in one minute 15 seconds, not 1.15 seconds, obviously…]

After that I had to race Lisa at Breast stroke. I was doing OK and was was well up in front when I swallowed a mouthfull of water, and at the same time a girl stepped out in front of me. I stopped to let her pass but Lisa had already drew ahead because of my stop. I got back and began to feel really sick but luckily I’m in the team. I have also entered for the Top of the Form quiz where again a team is selected from each school and we are asked general knowledge questions. We haven’t had the trials for that yet. Apart from that I am also carrying the school banner in the the gala day procession and am in the school relay team so I’m going to be busy!

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[Me in my school uniform, carrying the aforementioned banner in the gala day. I thought this showed school spirit, and would make everyone like me. Everyone else thought it just showed what an incorrigible “snob” I was, and hated me even more…]

Thats what happened today but since I haven’t written in my diary for such a long time I’d better bring you up to date on whats been happening to me lately. I have fallen out with Regina and Tanya yet again and have got them into quite a bit of trouble with the headmaster as they got some of their friends and ganged up on me on the way home from school one day trying to get me to fight Regina. My mum has been down to the school 3 times, my dad stayed off his work to go with her once and I have been to the headmaster about her 3 times but she still wont leave me alone.

[For some reason I thought the future readers of this diary wouldn’t be familiar with the concept of turning each page, so I added a handy ‘P.T.O’ to each page of this entry to help guide them through it. Because otherwise they’d have been just sitting there, going, “Wait: it just stops? What happens next?!]

PTO

Laurie, Julie and David have just returned from a 3 week holiday in America/Canada and had a good time. They brought me back a T shirt which has a comic picture of a horse on it and says ‘Arizona Horse Shirt’ [And I have JUST got that joke…]  and a pair of mirror glasses which I had been wanting for ages. Julie, David, Laurie, my mum, dad and I are all going to Bournmouth to stay with David’s sister for a fortnights holiday. I’ve met Davids sister before 3 times and she’s really nice so I’m sure we’ll have a great time. I’m taking my diary with me to record the holiday and I’m reserving a page in it for things I must remember to take with me. I can’t wait to go.

Amber Louise McNaught 

Excuse bad writing.

things I must remember to take to Bournemouth with me

Present day Amber:

So! I guess this was when I discovered my joy of writing looooong diary posts, huh?

There’s so much to say about this one. As you might have guessed, the two major events here were not unconnected: in fact, the whole “trying out for the swimming team/quiz team/relay team/carrying the school banner” stuff was all part of my frantic, and yet totally doomed, attempt to fit in, after the bullying mentioned in the second part of the entry had gotten to a stage where I was basically being shunned by everyone, with the exception of Laurie (who was two years younger, and who I pretended not to know at school, anyway, because Tanya and Regina thought it was hilarious that I was friends with a BOY. The fact that Laurie was also considered “posh” was the final straw, really…), and Lisa.

As I mentioned in my last Secret Diary post, I was super into boarding school stories at the time, and from those, I’d come to realise the best way to earn the respect of your peers was by being really, really good at lacrosse. Unfortunately for me, our school didn’t have a lacrosse team (and if it did, you could bet I’d be terrible at it…), so I tried basically EVERYTHING ELSE instead: even swimming, which I was absolutely useless at. I think I thought that if I just kept trying, people would eventually like me, but… well, the fact that they’d all followed me home, hoping to see me get beaten up, kinda suggests otherwise, doesn’t it?

As for THAT episode, it’s really interesting to me that I just wrote one short paragraph about it, before going into the whole ‘Arizona Horse Shirt/My Awesome Mirrored Sunglasses’ thing, because this was probably the most significant event of my young life. When I say Regina and Tanya gathered “a few friends”, you see, what I’m NOT saying is that it was basically the whole class – even the boys, who didn’t normally concern themselves with all of the ‘Mean Girl’ crap that went on amongst us girls. They were waiting for me just outside the school gates (because they weren’t on school property, I think they assumed the school wouldn’t be able to do anything), and they surrounded me, hitting me with rolled-up umbrellas, while Regina taunted me, trying to get me to fight her. I wasn’t physically hurt, but mentally I don’t think I ever really got over it.

The thing that  hurt me most here was that, amongst the crowd of kids who surrounded me that day were Luna, Hermione, and a bunch of other girls who I’d considered to be my “friends” – or who at least weren’t my enemies. In their defence, I realised even then that it wasn’t personal for most of the people there: half of them were just there for the drama of the promised fight, and the rest were there because Regina and Tanya had made it clear by then that anyone seen to be my friend would automatically become their enemy. Luna and co. didn’t actually join in the taunting that day, but the fact that they were even there broke my heart, and I refused to go to school the next morning… which was the point at which both of my parents had to pay a visit to the headmaster, while I sat weeping in Julie’s car outside the school gates, terrified to walk through them.

Much drama ensued. The headmaster’s solution to the issue was to keep me in school later than everyone else, so they couldn’t bully me on the way home. My parents did NOT take kindly to this suggestion, feeling it would not only fail to address the issue (and I knew they’d just wait for me, anyway), but would effectively punish ME for something that wasn’t my fault. In the end, Regina was summoned, and got a severe telling off, and instructions to write “I must not bully Amber” ten times. So, really effective punishment there: good work, that school!

(I remember us both being summoned to the headmaster’s office when this punishment was doled out. I started crying the second I walked through the door, as I always did: Regina, however, waited until later, and once we were dismissed, I discovered her in the girls bathroom, crying into the mirror. As much as I hated her by that point, I remember feeling a surge of sympathy, and feeling like I should go over and comfort her – then I immediately hated MYSELF for being so weak. Rough year, seriously.)

As for Luna, Hermione and co… well, unfortunately their parents took the whole situation a lot more seriously than Regina’s did (When my mum called Regina’s mother to try to resolve things privately, Regina’s mum said I was “a little bitch”, so I must have deserved it. Nice lady.), so they were all made to apologise to me. They did… but they also didn’t really speak to me much after that, because now I was a filthy snitch, basically. Thank goodness I had that holiday in Bournemouth to look forward to, huh? And so do you, of course: but that’s another story, for another time…

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8 Comments
  1. I am so sad to say that I know EXACTLY how you feel. When I was 13 I had almost the exact same thing happen to me– having the entire grade of girls, as well as some of the boys, gang up on you. Unfortunately nothing was resolved, although I’m happy to think I have moved on. See, I suppose I was fortunate enough to have excelled at sports (although that was one of the reasons for being targeted) so I had those to escape to for the duration of activity. I know they talk about how these incidents are character building and all that lark, but I think those who say that are not the people who have actually been through something to our scales. I don’t know if it’s a redhead thing or what, but I am very glad that particular experience is behind me, never to be repeated (as I’m sure you are, too).

  2. I have been reading your blog for a while now, so I knew you had been bullied in school, but reading this detailed description of what happened I almost had tears in my eyes. It must have been horrible. The fact that you grew up to be such a compassionate and empathic person is really amazing and admirable.

  3. I assume you changed the names of the bullies, as I know you’re not into naming and shaming. It is because of this issue that I died a bullying survey with all pupils through PSA lessons, and parents to discover hotspots and times. I then co-opted the involvement of the school’s educational psychologist, behaviour specialist et al. We asked for pupil volunteers and got really cracking kids involved as Buddies. The Hilton Hotel sponsored a room and refreshments for a training day. School gave us a room at lunchtime where pupils could come and talk about issues they were having. Rather than the telling off we did restorative justice between the parties. I had to give my lunchtime to supervising the buddies, and later was asked to go to the Dept of Education in London to explain how the Buddy system was initiated and worked. I like to think those wonderful youngsters helped their peers.

      1. OMG – I did NOT know you had changed the names and I thought it was so weird that the two half-frienemies were named after Harry Potter characters. I kept thinking, “what are the odds?” D’oh!

        This entry made me very sad. I’m sorry that you went through this, Amber.

  4. Wow. I thought I had a tough childhood, but at least there was nothing like that level of bullying in it! Some things like that you never get over – there will always be a sore spot, like a bruise on your memory. I was very quiet and shy, and also very close in age to my siblings, and they were all the friends I needed for the first 10 years of my life. When I started high school, I had no idea how to go about making friends. I thought it was absolutely fantastic when one girl befriended me. I told her all my ‘secrets’ not noticing that she wasn’t exactly spilling her guts back. She led me on for about 6 months, then told my ‘secrets’ to the entire school. They were fairly harmless things, like the boys I had crushes on, etc, but it was devastating at the time. It felt like the whole world was laughing at me. Every conversation I had was someone mocking me about those ‘secrets’. It eventually died away, but I had real trouble trusting anyone after that. Even now I take a long time getting to know people. But I was never physically attacked like you were. I don’t know how I would have handled that. Kids can be so cruel sometimes – I watch them today and wince when I hear the things they do or call each other.

  5. I’m so sorry you went through that Amber, kids are vicious and often their parents are no better! I really admire how honestly you speak about it and the bit about having sympathy for Regina made me want to give your younger self a big hug. I really hope times have changed in schools and they have found better ways to deal with such things. Xx

  6. Dear Amber,

    What a terrible terrible time you had. The school was a joke in handling this. We found out Blair was being bullied, and Bonnie and her 6ft male friend sorted it out. Wish we could have done the same for you. These girls are the lowest form of humans.

    Aunt fionaxxxx

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