Monday, 15 October 2012

21 Years of Bullying

This week I have been troubled a lot by the recent tragedy of Amanda Todd, a 15 year old Canadian from British Colombia who sadly took her life after 3 years of extensive mental abuse from an on-line stalker and physical abuse from bullies at school.
I cannot stress enough how bullying affects people even well after they have left college.

I’m going to share with you my past, which I haven’t done publicly. Bullying is something that people don’t’ really talk about during the time it happens, that people are afraid because of the backfire it causes to friends and family and that’s how bullies get away with it.

*Note:* All of the names I have mentioned are not the true names of those involved. All of the incidences are true to my knowledge and while others may have a different account, I say: each to their own. I do, however, keep their privacy because I have settled my peace with them. I hold no grudges, what was done, was done.

I was bullied throughout my entire childhood even into adulthood.
I was bullied at home, the girls on my street stole my bike, nearly broke my bedroom window throwing rocks, nearly blinded my dog with a laser pen, threw fruit onto my grandparents roof and over the garden fence nearly breaking our car’s windows, and once we got into a physical fight. Unfortunately for her, I was taller than her. At primary school it was no better. One girl liked to kick me and punch me and got away with it because her mother was the dinner lady. I got mocked and taunted at ballet school, on the bus to secondary school, at secondary school, in 6th form and at work up until last year when I was 25. That’s 21 years of my life I have been bullied- even by adults. When will it end?!

Unfortunately for Amanda she didn’t have any help, she sent out a cry for help and while others believe it was attention seeking, there is one vital thing people need to realise. There is a BIG difference in attention seeking and a cry for help. With my story, I am going to show you that difference. Though my own bullying was not as cruel as Amanda’s, it still torments me because those who were responsible for bulling me never apologised and I doubt I will never get an apology out of them. I however have forgiven them for their acts towards me. I knew they were cruel, I knew they were hateful spiteful and deceitful and at the end of the day when all that was said and done, I found out that I was right. I hate injustice just as much as the next person but I finally got my own justice when I saw that I was right and karma came.

I was an only child, skinny and had no social life because I was constantly at ballet school. Though I had only a handful of friends at primary school and one real best friend, I was bullied at ballet school by my peers and those older than me, those who I looked up to. I was the oddball and was constantly mocked and jeered at. My friend’s parents told me I was mocked and jeered at because I was a good dancer and had the body of a ballerina; I put it down to the fact that I was weird, awkward and with very knobbly knees.
My mother told me to stand up for myself and I took her advice. During one ballet class a girl came up to me and asked me to take off my golden retriever t-shirt as it reminded her of her dog who had sadly died. I refused. It got worse after that day because I stood up for myself. The taunts and jeers came in like a tumultuous wave that constantly crushed my spirit, breaking me away bit by bit, wearing me down and because of that and I hated ballet, because of the bullies. Tap, however, was much more fun; mostly because I couldn’t hear them name calling me over the noise. When we were put into groups, it was bad. We forced each other to get along but still the bullying persisted.

I look back on that and wonder if I would have done the same thing if I was ten years older. I think the answer is quite simple, no. I wouldn’t have done it, not for her. Unsure if she was goaded into asking me, I don’t think I will ever know, but I remember thinking if I were in her shoes, if I would have asked the same thing and d’you know what? I don’t think I would have. I’m not sure if it was stupid of her asking, or cruel of me having a t-shirt that resembled her dog, but in all fairness I can understand if she was upset, but I won’t kowtow to someone like that. I thank my mother on that little boldness, but also look where it got me? I was shunned from then on, even when I was in my middle teens I was still tormented at ballet school.

But what about back at school where bullies seem to extend into most of your life as you have to attend school 5 days a week and I was lucky to cut back for ballet school only going 4 days a week (note sarcasm).

Well the first year of secondary school (11 yrs old) I was so-so on the friending, after all we were all in the same boat; coming from different primary schools and not knowing many people. The two boys who came from the same primary school as me, were split up. I hardly got the chance to speak to them, and them me. So essentially, I was alone.

I sought out a small petite girl with long blond hair and within a few weeks we became fast friends. We went over to each other’s houses after school and genuinely had a good time. I didn’t have skirmishes with any of the other girls as cliques began to form and thankfully, I was bully free, in school, but not on the school bus.

Unfortunately for me, I lived a fair ways from my secondary school and had to use a bus. It had about 10 stops. On the first day of school, I found out I was the first pick up and chose my seat, like my mother instructed, behind the driver, his name was Lance. There were 4 bus drivers, Lance was the least likable of all. Ben, Simon and Darren. Darren was my favourite bus driver. He didn’t stand for crap and everyone respected him, he brought tapes and played them on the TV. Then there was Simon. Nice bloke, had a chat with us and was a nice guy. Ben was nice but he had a lot of problems and after shouting at a couple of bad boys on the bus, got tormented by them until he quit.
Anyhoo, the first year of the bus to school was a nightmare. I only had one friend, Kelly, who was two years older than me and sat beside me on the bus. I liked her a lot and we had a lot in common. But one girl who I could not stand and who hated every part of my body was a girl who I shall name Dawn (not her real name). Dawn and I didn’t really get along in the first year. She was cosy with her boyfriend and because I knew him, she despised me. I was taunted, jeered, things were thrown at me and I still sat in that seat behind the bus driver. Lance and Ben didn’t really get involved, while Darren did. When Darren was on the bus, she didn’t do anything, in fact on a few occasions she came down to the front and sat next to me pretending to be friends. But when Lance and Ben were on, I was target central.

Second year of secondary school aged 12.
Ah this wasn’t a good year. Though I still had my little blond friend, there were others who were pulling me in a different direction and for that, I was punished for it. One girl made my life a misery. One day we were best friends, the following day she hated me and got everyone to gang up on me, calling me names, pushing me, sending me threatening emails, then the following week we were best friends again. Never in my life had I known such a messed up friendship as us.

One girl who was demur and quiet and liked reading a lot told me to be careful. I didn’t get it then, but I get it now. After 5 months of a volley of friend-enemy relationship, I was finally seeing a new light within a small group of people who were really there for me. My little blond friend had moved away from me, after a fight and fall out where she and two others ganged up on me and gave me the silent treatment for a month or two, but soon they sought greener pastures with some of the popular girls and I went in a different direction. To witchcraft.

I had become part of a coven and with that along came the dark music, the obsession over gravestones, black make-up and black clothes, basically anything freaky and unnatural. I liked it. I could be free with this and it made me happy. In my third year of secondary school, when I was 13/14 I had a new best friend at school. I was happy, my grades were ok, as usual and things started to work out. Our group grew and we became known as the Bench People at our school. Emo’s didn’t exist then, and so we were a collective of Goths and freaks. Didn’t trouble anyone, liked our dark music, talked about poetry, Buffy and Charmed and generally had a good time on Friday nights in our local town. Though, I was still tormented by the same girl from the previous year with the friend-enemy friendship. She had once again managed to screw me up and someone managed to send me more hateful and threatening emails to me.

During the time I was 15/16 things settled down. I got bullied by a few girls who were younger than me who decided to push me against the wall and threaten me (just outside the teachers class no doubt) but I explained that they had got the wrong end of the stick and mistook me for a girl who was similar looking to me. She didn’t understand that I could not be in two places at the same time. I was in Cornwall with my mum and she was at home being picked on by a girl who looks like me. Funnily enough the girl who looks like me is called Michelle. Michelle if you are out there…thanks!

So…Then after my GCSE’s when I was 16, I moved onto 2 years of 6th form at the same school to study A-levels in Biology, History, Social Studies and Drama. It all went downhill from there.

I wish I had been prepared for what was to come, but it came out of the blue. Starting AS Level in September, everything was going fine until the winter of 2002.
I’ll never forget it as long as I live. It was Carnival night and I saw one of my friends and her parents in the crowd and waved to them. My other friends then dragged me away saying that they didn’t want to be near her or say hello. That upset me first off…I thought we were all friend’s right, what’s changed? Half an hour later we met at one of our local spots and after discussing if me and my best friend should go and see a movie together, she explained that she couldn’t. Within minutes the others turned on me, telling me that I was wrong that I should respect her decision. But that wasn’t why I argued with her, I just didn’t understand her excuse at the time.

That was the first blip in what was going and it escalated from there. One girl who I was friends with decided to give me the silent treatment after she found out I like her boyfriend saying I got my friend to break her and her boyfriend up and that never happened, thus so it got progressively worse.

In a matter of weeks I was alone, completely friendless and all I heard was them bitching about me openly in front of anyone who would hear, talking behind my back, making me feel that I was alone and in fact, I was. One girl who acted as a friend but who sided with them, still talked to me and explained to me what was going on; the girls blamed me for everything, said I was homophobic, I couldn’t be trusted and I was mean and nasty and bitched to others behind their back. But how could I bitch to anyone? I didn’t have any friends.

In 2003 it sunk to a new low on so many levels. I have always hated Valentine’s Day and that year wasn’t any better. One of my former friends decided to hand out Valentine’s Cards to everyone in our tutor room. She didn’t give me one, obviously as she hated me, but one cruel thing was leaning over me to give a card to someone sitting next to me. I was in school for 30 mins before I called my mum and asked her to pick me up, I couldn’t bare it. My grades were slipping because I couldn’t be in the same school as them. I felt pathetic, I felt weak; unable to do or say anything. And the teachers didn’t help, why would they? Teachers don’t really see anything. After failing to turn up to my biology class where the others were, I was told off by my science teacher. He gave me the janitor talk, said I wouldn’t amount to anything. I didn’t have any fight left to explain to him what was going on. I was just fighting to get through the day, fighting to only cry for a minimum of 4-5 times during the day, if I was lucky and fighting constantly against my better judgement of staying in school, even if it was torture for me every day.
A month later, a very dear friend, who was much loved by many people in the school, suddenly died. I’ll never forget that girl as love as I live. She was such a character and a brilliant actress, she made so many people laugh and her own laugh was infectious.

While we were being given the devastating news, I remember sitting in the lobby of our “Common” building that the 6th formers shared. The group walked by me as though I was s*it on the floor. No hug, no I’m sorry or having a talk. That was a heavy blow; even during a friend’s death they tormented me.

The death of my friend hit me hard and the cold cruel people who had had taken my reason to smile and live my life, had made it worse. A week or two after my friends funeral I had the darkest notion ever, I wanted to end it all. As dramatic as it sounds as it’s used in so many films and books and what not, it was the lowest side of me that I never want to be in again. No one knew of my pain and if they did, they ignored it and my parents didn’t understand either. I was being dragged back by the group over and over again. I couldn’t escape them, couldn’t get away from them because they were there, lurking behind any form of happiness I got at school and sucking the life away from it. School was not a happy place to be anymore and neither was my home. I wasn’t happy anywhere, I was constantly sad and depressed. But I never sought medical help even when it came to the lowest of the low. For some reason I was afraid of getting help, afraid of someone noticing that I had failed to pick myself up on my own and it gave me a thought.

During my 17th birthday, I didn’t celebrate it. Instead I was in my room crying. It’s quite odd really, during the time my friends had their birthdays when we weren’t speaking, I still got them a card and a present and I had no one and nothing. Not even a text, but it was then that I had a choice to make. I could either let them continue to hurt me, or I could move away from them and start fresh with a new life, new friends. I had to move schools.

Everything was done, sorted and I was on my way to start a new school. I thought about having a last ditch effort to pull myself together and let my them know why I was going and I told her and walked away. There was a great sense of relief when I said what I said. It might have been small but it was a small victory at the fact that I was going to a place where no one knew me, they didn’t know my baggage or any of my previous friends.

Amanda went through some very harrowing ordeals and in this day and age it was much worse than mine because it was cyber bullying which no one can really get away from. Cyber bullying is a form of mental abuse, but mental abuse could be just as bad as physical abuse, because the scars are still there, even after so many years has passed.

Amanda is still getting bullied even now, over a week after her death. People continue to call her an attention seeker after her plea for help over youtube. This is where I shall educate you in attention seeking:

-Attention seeking: adjective attempting to attract the attention of other people, typically by disruptive or excessively extrovert behaviour.
 -Cry for help: a way of saying that you need help. Most suicide attempts are really a cry for help.

Amanda was crying for help, she wasn’t attention seeking. The help she wanted she didn’t receive and as a result, her life is now ended.

If you are being bullied hear what I say: Your bullies have NO right in treating you the way they do. They are NOT allowed to make you feel miserable, or cause you mental or physical pain. You have one life in this world; do not let your tormentors take your happiness away from you. You are not alone, even if you have no friends, your family doesn’t listen, you are still NOT alone! There are help-lines to guide you, new school to go to, teachers to talk to. You have the power to change your life, you! You have the right to a happy life, a happy school life and a happy home life. Do not let your bullies get away with it. They are not allowed to treat you the way that they do.

If you know someone who is being bullied you can do something about it. Help them out, even if it’s anonymously. Tell a teacher or another friend, be there for them. This world is dark enough as it is; don’t let someone’s life slip away in front of you because you didn’t want to get involved. BE involved, help someone out, be a big brother or big sister to those who need help. Don’t stand by and watch people hurt; their pain will forever be with you if you refuse to act. Don’t have any regrets, help someone have a better life.

Bullying needs to stop. Amanda’s message is the start of something that should be recognised. Bullies have no right to do what they do. This must stop!

I am holding a Candle Vigil for Amanda a month after she took herself from this world. Please click on the link below and join the event over Facebook. All I ask is that you light a candle for Amanda and for anyone else who is being bullied on Nov 10th.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Botched Haggling and Janghang Ho!

The other weekend my friend Rachel from uni came over to South Korea for a few days after touring in China for a month. Meeting her outside Angbok station we went to the palace of Changdeokgung and had a look around. Pictures below!

The palace is stunning and beside it was the Secret Garden where we had a tour. Pictures below!

 Seoul really is wonderful and it’s so amazing to realise that you are in one of the most largest cities in the world and yet are completely cut off from all the hustle and bustle of the outside life.
I then took Rachel to a Korean restaurant. We had Kimchi broth with tofu and pork, Galbi, which is tender pork where you fry it before you and bibimbap which is rice, spicy sauce and vegetables. Very nice! Rachel loved it a lot and wants to look for a Korean restaurant in London when she gets back to the UK.
That night we went to see the Fireworks display. So many people were around the place, but it was spectacular! The people quite literally lit up Seoul. As Rachel said, it was raining gold!

Following morning we went into Itaewon. Now Itaewon is an area in Seoul which is very Western and you’ll find a lot of western shops for clothes and food (I got gravy packets, custard packets, Gummie Bears, Apricot Jam and tarragon) and so forth. Well finally after many, many months I found a shoe shop with my size! Most of Korea and actually Asia have shoe sizes that go up to 6, or 250, well it’s sod’s law that I am a 255, or 6 ½ or a 260, a 7. And many shop assistants give me such a look when I asked for 260 in women’s shoes. Grumble. But! This shop had 260! And I got some boots for my 1 yr anniversary with my boyfriend aww…sad fact though that the bloke wanted the money in cash, so the boyfriend used my money to buy my present for me….Typical.

Anywhoo, so walking down the road, minding my own business and the boyfriend says, “Look gloves.” They were black and leather and something that I really don’t like. But I looked at one and a woman suddenly sprang up on me and started talking to me in broken English and Korean. She said it was discount from 80,000 to 45,000 and I said it was too much, as they were. I only had 20,000 on me so she asked how much. I told her 20,000 and she shook her head and gave me some other gloves that were worth 20,000 and I said no then walked off. She then called out 35,000 and said no, too much then as I walked away for a second time, she said, ok, ok, very irritably and I made a bargain of 20,000 from “80,000” 45,000 pair of gloves.
On the train home I looked at my new gloves, relishing in the fact that I finally made a bargain and then became somewhat distraught when the woman gave me two left hand gloves…asdfghjkjhgfdsdfghsdjhgfdjhgsd!!!!!!!!!!!  Serves me right I suppose. Buggeration.
The following weekend…

Last night our little Seocheon group (in South Korea) visited Janghang, the next town over and we brought with us a newbie from Ohio. He had only been in the ‘Cheon (nickname for Seocheon) since Wednesday and hadn’t met any of us.
First we headed over to the samgyupsal place in Janghang, along with quail eggs, kimchi, fried fish and the traditional bbqing pork in front of you- we had a brilliant time with beer, soju and cola! Then we moved away and went ten pin bowling! I’m not a good bowler and after winning 2 games out of 3 and only getting 3 strikes, we then drunkingly moved off to noraebang. Noraebang is basically karaoke.  A booth with alcohol, munchies, 2 microphones and 2 tambourines, the 13 people from both groups melded together like chocolate and caramel and got stuck into any and every random song. Twas very, very fun!
Our little newbie from Ohio got quite drunk to the point he passed out…bless. And our usual strip tease from a friend didn’t happen as it’s getting quite cold. But we did have a good time and I managed to hit the high notes in Avril Lavigne’s I’m With You and Ugly Coyote’s Can’t Fight the Moonlight. So I feel proud of that! J

I now have a week off invigilating for my students as they do their mid-term exams. During the week I am going to prepare for NaNoWriMo and finish off my little spin off. Writing for a week! Bliss!!!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Just another day in paradise.

So let’s get this blog started shall we?
Let's have a look at a positively wonderful library from my on-line newspaper...

 Library from Kresmunster Abbey in Austria 
Alternatively you can view my pins and my boards from Pintrest.

Back to why I am blogging today...
Question, How many of you are on Linkedin? Or maybe I should ask, do you know what Linkedin is? Well to put it plainly, Linkedin is like Branchout on Facebook; a website that connects people through profession, jobs and interests and whatnot. I joined about 2 weeks ago and after joining a group, “Book Writer” I began a topic which really needed to be addressed. Amazon book reviews.

Now if you are an author, published or not, then you know about reviews. There are some good and some bad- it comes with the package of being an author and you know for a fact you are not going to please everyone. However, there are some reviews which are, to put a too finer point on it, appalling. The reviews are basically troll work where other authors have stooped so low as to bitch about someone’s book without ever reading it and then shamefully boast about their work and how it is better in contrast. Abysmal! 

Though my book is not out on the shelves or indeed in Amazon’s warehouse at the present time, I know for a very sad fact that there will be one horrid review on my book from someone who dislikes me, instead of hating my book.

I was unsure how to take this when I found out and though I don’t understand the person’s real motive to do something like that, I feel that it should be said. I am not going to name names, for unlike them, I am not horrible. They know who they are.

But it got me thinking about reviews in general. There have been a fair few authors who have plugged their work on other authors newly published books. I have seen two authors do that to a few author friends and it upset me that there are actually very nasty people out there who rip authors to shreds because in truth, they are either jealous of the attention or really has some beef with that particular author.

I don’t really leave reviews on Amazon as I prefer Goodreads, if truth be told and while there is more response to reviews on Amazon, I find myself categorically adamant that there are more troll-like reviewers than actual reviewers who give the author some positive criticism.

Not everyone will like the best book in the world as no one can please everyone- there are over 8 billion people, odds are they’ll be a fair few who don’t like your book for one reason or another, but does it give those people a right to hate your book so much that they won’t read it and STILL leave a review?

When the masses of messages poured into my email account after posting about the Amazon Reviews on Linkedin, I found it interesting to point out that one clever chap mentioned that Amazon sends an email to you within 24 hours of purchasing a book from them, asking to review it. Well I’m not a speed reader so I couldn’t possibly leave a review within the first 24 hours of buying a book. Maybe after 3-4 months after I’ve finished it- and even then I’d choose my words carefully when reviewing.

I’m not a good reviewer, I’m quite poor. Usually I tend to say, “This book was amazing, you have to read it” and not give a clear reason on why it must be read, ergo with something that I know needs a review, I shall gladly give a positive one, even if I sort of didn’t like the book. 
There have been some terrible books that I have read. Most of them have got bad English, spelling, grammar and other nasty things like rape, bad sex and acutely bad swearing. That does put me off some books, especially if they are meant to be targeted towards teenagers. Bad form, but that's my opinion. 

When I was a bookseller, I gave my opinion and I gave reviews of the books for my customers. Then it was up to them on whether to buy it or not. Going slightly off topic here but I once had a customer who wanted something for her grandson, he was 14, nearly 15 and she wanted a funny, intelligent book. I told her to start off with Colour of Magic by Terry Prachett. You can't go wrong with him. She then told me about the Vampire books that she's heard about. Naturally I told her I had read Twilight and the P.C Cast books and gave her my honest opinion but I also told her that they were receiving much praise. She then asked me about the swearing and the sex and that was the point where by telling her the truth she flatly refused to by them.

While teenage girls love the fantasy of a mythical being sweeping her off her feet, there are only a handful of teenage boys who would want to read those types of books. However with the boys who I have spoken to who have read Twilight, Sookie Stackhouse and P.C Cast, they have all said the same thing, "Where is the action?" Made me laugh and to tell them honestly, you won't find that type of manly action. It's for girls right? Teenage girls who just want sex, swearing and a badass book they can brag about to their friends.

For e.g. a 14 year old came into the store and bought three P.C Cast books. On the cover they practically screamed out "Not suitable for under 16's" but she bought them anyway, thanks to mummy and as she was leaving the store she said out loud and proud, "None of my friends have these, they'll be so jel!"

Need I say more?

There is no divisional line between children any more. It's blurred. Heck, when I was 15 I was reading Enid Blyton as well as Goosebumps, Animorphs and Harry Potter...the good old days of innocence in children is fading and teenagers are becoming adults before they realise that they have no childhood to speak of, which is a shame. Books, even in their brilliance, brings about a sense of devastation to teens and when children as young as 13/14 read mummy's 50 Shades of Grey, there is no hope for the world of books, teens or their mothers...I won't get onto 50 Shades of Grey...I'm too happy to annoy myself right now...

Any hoo, back to the topic of this blog...
For reviews, specifically for Amazon, I believe that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. If the book wasn’t for you say so, but don’t destroy it by blasting the author because you don’t like him or her, or the book is violating your copyright, or they have stolen your ideas. Preposterous!

Books are our children. We created them from scratch, we’ve nurtured them, changed them to our ideals; they are part of us. So just think about that the next time to review a book you may not like or I may just tell you blatantly, “I don’t like your snot nosed child!’ See…it’s not nice, is it? And I don't even know your child (if you have one). But the point I am making should be clear, don't judge a book by it's cover or synopsis. Give it a chance and even if you don't like it, make a positive review with criticism. We are meant to be helping authors and readers. 

I leave you with a lovely quote...