Sticks and Stones


Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.


Sticks and stones may indeed break my bones, but words have the power to stay with me forever.

Somebody from my primary school (children aged 4-11 for those of you outside of the UK) must have been in a nostalgic mood recently as they had posted up a selection of class photographs on Facebook, taken about 23 years ago. They appeared on my wall because one of my friends was tagged in there, and they instantly brought back a ton of memories.

Looking at those photographs, I can probably remember about 40% of those names, but there, right in the centre of one of them, was a little boy with tight curly hair, a pasty complexion and thick rimmed glasses. For the purposes of anonymity, I’m going to call him X.

I read through the many comments that had been written underneath by people that I hadn’t seen or thought about in years.

However, one in particular stood out.

I forgot that we went to school with Napoleon Dynamite.

Someone else had written something below about feeling guilt, but laughed about it all the same. My heart sank. I remember him, I remember his name and I even remember a cruel nickname that we called him. This skinny little boy was quiet and shy, and was bullied mercilessly to the point where he left the school because of the abuse that he suffered from so many. While I never considered myself to be a mean girl (although I wasn’t perfect), I remember one incident that still makes my stomach churn a little, all these years later.

Our primary school didn’t have a canteen, so we had to walk up to another building further up the road for our lunch, during which we were expected to hold hands in pairs. Nobody ever wanted to be near him, so he was forced to hold the hand of his sister, who was equally ostracised. I remember that they were walking in front of me once, and he turned around and looked at me.

“Eww, you’re kissing your sister,” I said to him, laughing with my friends and backing away so I wouldn’t have to walk near him. Even at that age, I knew what I had said was wrong, and I have no idea why I felt prompted to join in with everyone else. To my recollection that was the only thing I ever said to him during my entire school life with him. He didn’t say anything, he never said anything, he just turned around and carried on walking. I had no reason to dislike him – he never did anything to me at all, but I didn’t talk to him, I didn’t include him, I didn’t invite him to any of my parties. Almost nobody did – in my own little bubble he simply didn’t exist.

Karma came to bite me on the ass when I started high school. I was what my students would describe as a ‘boffin’ – I worked hard, was in the top sets for everything, played in the orchestra and band, was on the badminton team, and to my recollection received only one or two detentions throughout my five years at the school. Looking back, I was a bit of a know-it-all, I wasn’t considered to be as attractive and didn’t possess the same social skills as some of the more popular girls, but aside from getting involved in silly girly politics, I didn’t intentionally go out of my way to hurt anyone else and I had some friends.


One boy in particular despised me almost from the first moment he met me, and he and his cronies tortured me for almost the entirety of my teenage academic life. He learned how to flick spit with the end of his tongue and he would frequently spit in my hair when stood behind me in a line. If I did or said something in a lesson he would go out of his way to tell the teacher to try and get me into trouble. He would concoct lies, spread rumours, and tell the older girls that I had said things about them to try and get them to beat me up. On several occasions, it almost worked, and being surrounded by lots of students while an older girl threatened me, screamed at me and pulled my hair because she had been told I’d been mean to her sister by this boy still remains one of the most terrifying moments of my entire life. He and his friends used to take great delight by repeating my name over and over whenever I would walk into a room, or would call me fat or ugly. When my friend tried to stand up for me, they did it to her too. Unfortunately, I was in most of my lessons too, and so it went on all day, every day.

At one point my father, who was a governor at the school, intervened, and this made it far worse. The boy started to use him as a way of trying to wind me up. However, what he didn’t know was the way my very angry and violent father treated my sisters and I when we were growing up, which was something I didn’t tell anyone until years later, so I couldn’t tell my father any more after this for fear of what he would do, both to me and to him. My father expected me to ignore it and would get angry and lash out at me when I got upset. It wasn’t as easy as that.

Looking back, many of these incidents were silly and childish, and nowadays wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, but I’ve always felt that my teenage years, while successful, were lived in fear. I cared so much about what my peers thought and adapted my behaviour to try to be accepted, and then spent many hours hiding in the music room during breaks and lunch times to avoid contact with people. I even attempted to befriend some of them, to be told “don’t talk to her, she’ll grass you up if you say anything about her.” Worse still, my self-confidence was on the floor. I believed that I was ugly. I believed that nobody liked me. I used to feel physically nauseous whenever I walked into my form room every morning because I knew what was going to happen. I was so stressed that I suffered from nose bleeds. I pretended to be ill so I didn’t have to go to school. I was the ultimate victim, feeling sorry for myself and constantly repeating different instances in my head until I had made myself feel anxious and depressed. I didn’t help myself in the slightest, but I didn’t deserve what I got. My saving grace was the fact that I worked hard, I got good grades and was able to get away from them as soon as I possibly could – while others were all crying and hugging on the last day, I happily skipped down the school drive knowing that I was going to be attending a performing arts college and would never have to see them again.


I left school nearly seventeen years ago, and I’ve moved on – we all have – but I haven’t forgotten. Of the hundreds of people that I shared my lessons with, I am still very close to just one, and communicate regularly via Facebook with just two or three. I have a life that I am proud of, a supportive family, great friends and a wonderful bloke. While I don’t harbour any ill feelings towards them, I don’t wish to get in contact with any of those people I knew so many years ago ever again, and the photographs, and some of the comments written below them, served as a reminder as to why. I’m very sure they feel exactly the same way about me.

I take bullying extremely seriously as a teacher and am quite open in sharing my own experiences whenever I have had to deal with it. What I tell my students, and will continue to tell my students for as long as I am their teacher, is that the opinions of others don’t matter, especially those which have no connection to our lives and how we choose to live it. Some children are thoughtless and cruel and often they will continue to be just as awful in their adulthood. That’s their problem, not ours.

What matters is that we don’t allow ourselves to be the victim and, more importantly, allow those opinions to dictate what we do, who we are and how we act. What matters is that we can go through life being successful and happy, as kind and as generous as possible and be able to look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of each day and know that we have done our best. What matters is that we like what we see in our reflection. Karma will often take care of the rest.

To X, and anyone else I treated unfairly along the way, I’m sorry. I hope he doesn’t read those comments and that, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, he’s happy.

What about you guys? Have you experienced bullying at any point in your life?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog, and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page


10 Things I Love About My Country #4: Writers

Over the last few weeks I’ve teamed up with Steve, Jenny and now Jenny’s beau to compile a list of things that we love about our country. I’m English, Steve is Scottish and Jenny is American, and it’s been a really interesting experiment.

The focus of this week is writers. I love to read and it is a regular source of enjoyment that has followed me since early childhood. As an English woman, I am blessed that this country has produced some of the greatest writers of all time, and if I were to list every influential member of this group I think that I would have to create an entirely different blog in itself. I started by trying to sound intelligent – I researched lots of authors that I felt should be included on the list simply because The Guardian told me so, but then I realised that I couldn’t talk about them with any passion because, however revered their works are, I simply don’t enjoy them myself. Instead, I thought I would take a slightly different approach and discuss my own favourite writers and creators of works that I love to read, so I apologise if your favourites are missing from the list.

250px-Shakespeare1. William Shakespeare (1564, baptised, – 1616): Ah, the Bard of Avon. as I have aged, my love for Shakespeare’s words have grown. Widely regarded as the greatest writer and dramatist in the english language in history, his many works have been translated into every major living language and are the source of endless hours of boredom for students the world over. I live a short drive away from his birthplace, Stratford – upon – Avon, and I am always surpised by the number of tourists, particularly American and Chinese tourists (sporting enormous cameras) that visit the city every year. I could create an entire post dedicated to the great man’s work and would still never be able to do him justice, so I’ll simply say this: his sonnets, poetry and plays express different aspects of life that simply transcend time. He demonstrated such a mastery of language, weaving words together to create layers within layers at levels that no other writer has been able to reach since.

2. Charles Dickens (1812-1870): Every year, at Christmas, The Bloke and I have a tradition which involves a movie marathon that includes of ‘Scrooged’ and ‘A Muppets Christmas Carol.’ We’ve also go and see theatrical adaptations, the last one starring Tommy Steele. It is essentially the same story each time, and yet I have never become bored or dissolusioned by it. Why? Because a Christmas Carol, as with most of Dickens novels, is written in a way that demonstrates the universal emotions that we all share while being able to transport us to a different time and place. When Dickens began writing his first novel in 1836, the literacy rate in England was less than 50%. By 1901, it was over 97%, and it is widely believed that Dickens’s novels were partially responsible for this growth. Dickens was able to appeal to the masses, taking advantage of the developments of technology to publish his works on a large scale, and as a result he became a public figure that everyone loved.

TOLKIEN3. J.R.R. Tolkein (1892-1973): Tolkein was a writer, poet and university professor. The Hobbit was a the first novel that we read as a class at primary school. We were given a copy each, during which we had to read chapters at home, and our teacher would read large sections to us at the end of a long day. I loved it – it was exciting and intruiging, and the first time that I remember genuinely caring about a character. I found it a little more difficult to attempt Lord of The Rings admittedly, and it took me a while to finish the trilogy, but he absolutely deserves to be on the list as one of the greatest English fantasy writers of all time.

4. Jane Austen (1775-1817): I believe that my love of Jane Austen appeals to both my enjoyment of English history and the hidden romantic in me. I adored ‘Emma’ in my early teens and read it so many times that I had to buy another copy to replace my original that started to fall apart. While I admit I found the language a little difficult at first, Austen’s novels are beautiful, and she remains one of the only authors to make me cry.

5.  J.K. Rowling (Born 1965): I have included J.K. Rowling in this list because she is responsible for the biggest selling book and movie franchise in recent history. While the general plot for Harry Potter isn’t entirely original (read The Worst Witch books if you don’t believe me) it’s impossible to argue with the fact that Rowling is a master of storytelling. I read the Harry Potter books in a ridiculous order – 4,3,2,1,5,6,7 – and yet I thoroughly enjoyed every single one. I think that in a world of evermore exciting technological developments, above all, Rowling should be rewarded for the fact that she encouraged a whole new set of generations to sit down and read again.

Caitlin-Moran6. Caitlin Moran (Born 1975): Aside from the late Maya Angelou, who I unfortunately can’t include in the list, Caitlin Moran is by far my favourite writer. Homeschooled in Wolverhampton, she has been writing for national newspapers and magazines since the age of fifteen and over recent years has written several books and a novel, including my favourite: ‘How To Be a Woman.’ Moran is sharp, witty, highly intelligent and insightful, and her outlook on many different aspects of life make me laugh out loud regularly and rethink my perspective on my status as a woman and my surroundings.

7. Sue Townsend (1946 – 2014): As a teenager I liked to visit my local bookstore regularly, and was often given book tokens as gifts. On one of my many jaunts I discovered ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4.’ It only took a single page for me to buy it, and my obsession was born. I followed the Adrian Mole series avidly from that moment, excitedly waiting for the next installment. What I loved about the books was that as I aged, so did he, and Townsend was extremely clever in that she wrote them almost in ‘real time,’ including all the major national and international social issues and events in Adrian Mole’s diary entries. When Townsend passed away earlier in the year, I was devastated both at the loss of a great literary artist, and my favourite character of all time.

Benjamin_Zephaniah_University_of_Hull8. Benjamin Zephaniah (Born 1958): I have a little piece of paper on my desk. It says, ‘To Suzie, thank you for your support, I love you, Benjamin Zephaniah.‘ After being a huge fan for years I discovered that one of my students was related to him and begged for an autograph. While I am not usually a poetry connoiseur (mainly because of the fact that I often don’t understand it), his poems have always challenged me – they are strong, emotive and utterly fantastic. His novel ‘Refugee Boy’ is in my list of all-time favourite books.

I have only included eight on the list, and I have discovered that a large proportion of them are both modern and from the Midlands, where I have lived for nearly fourteen years, but these are the things that I like to read. I appreciate that I have made some almost blasphemous ommissions – Orwell, Pratchett, Bronte, Chaucer, Woolf, Hardy, Wordsworth… So this is your opportunity. What are your favourite English (not British) authors?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog

Letters From The West

The theme for this week’s photo challenge is ‘Letter.’

Here are some of the examples I have seen of letters in the last few years, from the neon signs of Piccadilly Circus to the handwritten letters of love on Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Pere Lachaise… As always, I’d love your thoughts.


Piccadilly Circus, London


The words of JFK’s most famous speech, carved in stone next to his grave, Arlington Cemetery, Washington


Letters of love, written on Oscar Wilde’s tomb, Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris


Letter carved into the ruins of Pompeii, Italy


The entrance to the British Library, London


‘I amsterdam’ letters, Amsterdam

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