R is for Rope
You’ll have to bear with me for this one! We will get to the rope bit!
Mrs Holl was an absolute darling. She taught needlework at school. It is testament to her beautiful character that she was even kind and loving to me. I say this because needlework has never, and will never be a skill that I strive to perfect. I was actually so bad at needlework at school that it once took me a whole term to make a shirt. And in fact I didn’t make it at all.
“Can you help me with this, Mrs Holl?” always worked. Her ‘help’ actually involved her sewing the whole damn thing. I was the ONLY pupil to be allowed to do rug making in needlework classes. Rug making. I loved it. Huge needles and a woven template and a pattern that you could choose yourself. Most of mine involved ponies.
I was, however, very good at sport. It was a small, private school for ‘gals’ - about 120-150 pupils. There were only six games ties awarded to pupils who excelled at sports. I was the proud owner of one of them. Netball was my speciality (I went on to play county netball in later years).
Bullying was different in those days – especially in a private school for middle class ‘gals’. We’re not talking physical and we’re not talking the appalling verbal and cyber bullying that goes on in today’s schools. But one girl did make my life a misery. She was very sporty and also good at netball. I guess she didn’t like the competition. She was always telling me that I was rubbish and moaned very loudly if I ended up on her team.
I told Mrs Holl about it one day and she gave me a piece of advice that I have treasured, and practiced, all my life. I so distinctly remember us sitting on the lovely sloping lawns of the school grounds. Mrs Holl had a wonderfully quiet voice that was never loud and never strayed from its calm and measured delivery of words. She asked me if I had ever seen a tug of war match. I told her that I had. She told me to picture two teams of equal strength battling back and fore and wearing themselves out with the effort. I could picture it. She then asked me to see just two people. The rope goes one way, and then the other, and then back again. I could see it. She then asked me to picture one of the people as me, and the other as the girl who had been bullying me. I did. She then asked what would happen to my opponent if I let go of the rope. We giggled together as I told her that I could picture her falling over in an undignified manner on her bottom. Bottom, in those sheltered days, was a rather naughty word so it was doubly funny. Anyway, her advice was to just agree with everything that the girl said.
About a week later, I ended up on her netball team side.
“Oh no” she said to me. “You’re rubbish at netball.”
I remembered Mrs Holl’s words just in time and said, “Yes I know.” Her face was a picture. No argument to argue, you see. I was standing up and she was on her bottom. I had ‘let go of the rope’.
Many years later, I accidentally ended up teaching 3-11 year olds. When victims of bullying came to me for comfort and advice, I would always tell them the tug of war story. I often heard myself in the playground, walking past a couple of arguing hormonal children (usually girls) and saying, “Stephanie – let go of the rope.”. It always worked!.