Today is my birthday! I often talk about the growth, decline and return of my Inner Lion – click to read. Its impact and influence upon my younger self has made for several entertaining – and highly embarrassing – stories. Some are so cringey that they make my toes curl up and others just make me question the whole idea of children’s intentions. For obvious reasons, I have omitted names* from the following story.
I was in Year 3 at primary school and at the time, I was a bit of an easy target for bullies. A chubby, frizzy haired child with an impossible name to pronounce. I had a nemesis during my earlier years at school – his name was Fred*. He was in the year above and had a reputation for being a spiteful bully; calling girls names, punching other students and generally making life hell.
For a number of months, Fred had been making my life at school hell. It ranged from calling me a “Paki” to interesting versions of my name. I had cried in the girls toilets and told my teachers about it. Alas: nothing had worked. My dad had told me: “Ignore it and walk away. If they follow you, stand up for yourself.”
One afternoon, during lunch time, Fred had resumed his usual post of bullying me. Remembering what my dad had told me I immediately picked up my Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox and walked away from him. Alas: this also did not work as Fred proceeded to hurl insults at me as he ran after me. In a corner of our playground, there was abench next to a large bush with orange berries. I used to hang out there in my attempts to get away from Fred. I sat down, closed my eyes, said every prayer my grandma had taught me and tried not to cry as Fred sat down next to me. He pinched my arm, pulled my hair and cruelly called me a “four-eyed-monster.” I opened my eyes, turned away from him and absently began picking the berries off the bush. Fred saw what I was doing and innocently asked: “What are you doing?”
A little smile crossed my childish face as I turned around with my left hand full of little orange berries. I looked at them and looked at Fred; a light bulb flashed. I cleared my throat and said. “Don’t you know what these are?”
Fred, none the wiser, said “No, why else would I ask Four-Eyes?” Usually that would have upset me, but I was on the cusp of hatching a plan and had become tipsy with power. I smiled at Fred and replied, “You know how I always have Smarties in my lunchbox? Well this is where I get the orange ones from.”
Fred gasped, “You’re lying!” I closed my eyes and slowly shook my head in the same way that my grandma did before she said something religious. I said, “I’m not. My dad owns a shop and this is where the Cadburys gets orange Smarties from.”
Before Fred protested, I held up my right hand and said “You’ll look stupid, everyone knows, but you’re more than welcome to ask them!” I stretched out my left arm with the orange berries glinting in the sunlight: “I wouldn’t lie. I eat them all the time: here have one.” Fred looked at me suspiciously. Biting my tongue, I gave my most reassuring smile and gently nodded for him to take some. He gingerly took three and popped them into his mouth gruffly saying, “Thanks.”
I got up and left – I had no idea what the berries were but I knew they weren’t orange Smarties! I ran away high five-ing myself for my heroic behaviour. The next day Fred didn’t come into school. The day after he didn’t come into school. In fact, Fred didn’t come back to school for three weeks. The headmaster gave the entire school a special assembly on dangerous berries and plants! I remember being wracked with guilt when I saw Fred in the canteen – this was quickly overcome with delirious happiness as he turned pale and ignored me. A few days later, the large bush with the orange berries was cut down. But the best bit of all: Fred stopped bullying me.