How to Be Free of Bullies
Do My Eyebrows Look Big in This?
I felt elated once my eyebrows were sorted. No one would call me Denis Healy now. Why hadn’t I thought of using a razor before? Much less painful than the tweezers they suggested.
After the warren of corridors I went past Sick Bay with the weighing machines and then the hair dryers and reached the banister for the stairs that led down to the ground floor. At the bottom was the detention board that my name had never been on. Until now. I’d go and have a look at it now my eyebrows weren’t obscuring my view. I felt so happy.
Walking down the stairs felt I was descending in a magnificent gown to a ball. I swayed my hips, anticipating the moment I would meet the new me reflected in the mirror. Any second now.
I smiled at myself with the little tufts of eyebrows. They looked great. I slowed my pace to allow the anticipation to build up before I saw my name on the detention board.
‘Sweaty!’ bellowed a familiar voice. I swung round and there was Emily. She presented the biggest obstacle between me and my sanity and now she had seen me smiling at myself in a mirror!
‘I’ve done my eyebrows,’ I said, ‘and I’m on the detention board with you.’ Why did I say that? Emily burst out laughing.
‘We’d better get to the gym,’ said Emily and I walked behind her, bright red and not daring to speak.
Rehearsals for Oliver! were starting. I was assistant director and Emily was in Fagin’s Gang. I couldn’t wait for everyone to see my new look. I walked in behind Emily who became the Artful Dodger as we entered. I felt in charge. It felt great.
‘What have you done, Dophy?’ asked Alex.
‘Oh, my eyebrows? I fixed them for good.’
‘Have you looked in the mirror?’
‘Oh yes, I caught her smiling at herself in the mirror by the staff room,’ said Emily. Alex laughed.
Not unkindly, Alex said, ‘Go and look in the loo mirrors. You’ve got tufts.’
I looked and saw little dark tufts over each eye. Now I saw how weird it looked. I was bright red. I went back to the gym, said ‘back in a sec’ and then shot straight up the foyer steps and ran to my room while trying to think where I’d put my black eyebrow pencil.
While listening to Wham! I then made my eyebrows into a complete mess and went back to the gym.
This is a vivid memory from school. It shows I was going a bit mad. My letters from this time back this up. As a teenager, I became pretty weird as I sought ways to be part of the crowd.
My view of the world was distorted. I was alone, didn’t know who to listen to, constantly tried to dodge humiliation and often got ridiculed. Now I can look back and laugh, too. Not everyone I went to school with feels the same. I went to a school reunion and some girls didn’t want to remember their time at that school.
The reason I can laugh is that I now understand who I was and can imagine what the other girls were probably going through. I like the fact I was – and am – a bit unconventional. Now I’m glad I am who I am – and part of me is like this because of those experiences. Life is funny and I’ve learned to take the sting out of these memories, so just the funny side is left. I’ve also found ways to avoid getting into new situations like this – there always will be people who laugh at others. I’ve learned how to trust my instincts to avoid situations or people that I think I won’t like (including tempting job opportunities) and gravitate towards ones that I will like.
I’ve never taken a razor to my eyebrows since this incident (I had them professionally plucked soon afterwards and they looked good with a bit of brown pencilling). Now I leave them to get on with being as Dennis Healy (80s politician with bushy brows) as they like, confident they have always been more Brooke Shields than Dennis Healy anyway.
In this book you will find many similar reminisces and cartoon illustrations – you are welcome to look and laugh at some of my experiences while I relive them or try to mine them for comedy material. At school and since I have found my pen is my most valuable ally in the battle for my sanity.
I’ve suggested some writing exercises throughout this book, so you can mine your own memories for similar comedy moments with a joke structure to follow, to see things from a different angle. I find real stories outshine traditional jokes at parties and they’re easier to remember when they happened to you.
Boarding school was my combat-bullying boot camp. We all know how popular boot camps are today. This book can be your boot camp if you like. (Get someone to smack you on the bum with it for starters). Most of the book explains the many different types of bullying we encounter today from personal to societal. I have tried to avoid complicating the issues. Why people bully others is very basic: it’s a need for control. The range in forms bullying can take is vast, so I have focused on the recurring themes that occur, to show why this behaviour is always about the bully, not the bullied.