Beneath the smile

S —- is leading the charge again with the media this week. Well done, S —-!

I cringe. Following the media interest last week, ‘phone calls and email, the Times Education Supplement and BBC News sites published pieces on my research funding. Their interest, I suspect, is captured more by the cute images accompanying the press release, than by the research. But stories were written. Each week, last thing on Friday, a media-round-up circulates the college, listing all media features. And it’s not the first time I’ve been on that list this year.

And it’s because it’s not the first time, that I am scared of this message; the congratulations from the Head of Department. The hint of sycophanticism. I am not trying to be sycophantic. I didn’t inform the Press Office I had research funding. I tried to play it down when they contacted me.


I am scared because of the reaction that teacher praise used to engender in my classmates. They hated me for it, and made that hate known, insidiously, slyly. I begged teachers not to praise my work. They told me not to stop working. So I did as they asked. They promised that they would sort it. It got worse. And worse. Aged 11 years, I envisaged myself standing atop, then falling from, a tall, tall building. My parents disliked me, my  classmates despised me. I hated me, and I wanted to die.

Fast forward 21 years, and I might as well be 11 years-old again, scared of how my peers will react, cursing academic success, wishing I could be more friendly instead. The fear compounds with experiences earlier in the week.


I am standing now, in front of a class of 10 year-olds. Sweet, little girls, with perfectly executed french plaits, slinking down their backs.They are smiling at me, 30 of them. Butter wouldn’t melt. But the teachers have told me that there are friendship “issues” in this class. These girls are not all sweetness and liht. Some of them can be downright nasty.


“Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.”

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye.

Remember what it was like to be 10 years old. To live under that kind of regime. Taut terror. I hand out the booklets, explain what I’m about. Collect them in again, and ask the questions. Get the predictable answers. These children know what they are doing; know that the school does not approve.

Angered, I remain upbeat. Throw my cuddly rabbit conch (‘he’s so sweet!‘) from child to child, to get everyone involved. Rise above the  tide of emotion surging from within. And I am done. I leave the school, and put one foot deliberately in front of the other to leave. I am shaking with the effort of emotional control, the fear of breaking down.


Three hours later, I am calm again. But I have a summer of this ahead of me. Of interviewing children, talking to them about disability, how important it is to be inclusive, showing them. Them nodding and smiling. And lying?

Lying and hypocrisy make me so angry. I tell myself that I shouldn’t care so much, but I still do. Hypocrisy, two faced-ness, is misery for the person at the receiving end of it. This week, I’m reminded that I have been at the end of it, somewhere, from someone, since I was eight years old. There is always someone. I wish I wasn’t so rubbish. I don’t know how not to worry about it, towards me, or others. 


This entry was posted in character, children, church, mental illness, morality, ridicule, work and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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