Today (where I live at least) marks the first day of the 'summer holidays'. The best part of school for me. Knowing I didn't have to go back for 6 weeks made the very last day of term just a little bit more bearable. You see, I hated school; when I say hated I really mean HATED. Those people who used to say to me "once you live and get out in the real world, you'll soon wish you were back here" didn't have a clue what they were on about. I was living in the real world, a world that aside from a couple of lessons (geography and maths) was pure torture to me. Every single day, right up until the middle of year 9 I was bullied, sometimes quite violently. I have a dimple on my cheek caused by a girl in junior school who smashed a house brick around the side of my face. I have a raised lump on my head, caused by one of her friends when they smashed my head into a concrete wall. Now, while those things hurt, it was the name calling which caused the most damage. Again, those fools who say "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me" have obviously never been bullied, because words hurt far more than any physical injuries.
My family weren't wealthy, in fact I was probably one of the poorer kids in school (even those living in social housing had more than we did). My parents worked hard, so very hard, to keep a roof above our head, and food in the cupboards. This meant that there wasn't always enough in the pot for new clothes, shoes and all other manner of material things that people rank so highly in life - if only those people could learn to appreciate the little things. What good are designer clothes and shoes, the newest mercedes, the biggest TV, and world cruises, if you really don't have a fucking clue how to appreciate them. In my experience the people who place such value on things are missing out on so much, so very much. However, when I was a school girl I didn't quite understand that, in the way I do today, and the bullying I recieved was relentless, because I would wear second-hand clothes, my Mums shoes (which were hideous, but if mine wore out and there was no money to buy new ones, I had no choice). My Dad had old banger cars (they got us from A to B which is all that mattered) but to the kids in school none of this was good enough. Add to that the fact that I always got on better with boys than I did with girls and I was a bullying, waiting to happen.
My Dad worked in the transport industry - first on the railways, then as a bus driver, before moving onto the coaching world. He was one of 4 brothers, my closest cousin (who is just a day younger than me - in fact he's really the only cousin who counts) was a male. My next-door-neighbour who I would spend time with when Mum was at work, and who would spend time with us when his Mum was at work, was male. I was brought up in a male dominated environment. It stands-to-reason that I was going to be able to get on with males far better than females (not that I didn't try to be friends with the girls) however, because of how well I got on with the boys, I was seen as a threat; a threat that needed to be dealt with - even in junior school I was beaten once because this particular boy and I had such a laugh together but the girl who caused most of my issues wanted him to be her boyfriend and apparently I was the one stopping this from happening. I can hand-on-heart say that until I got to the age of 12 when the lightning bolt that is John Campbell entered my life, I had never looked at a boy as anything other than a "friend". John was 3 years older than me, lived in another town, never went anywhere near any of my schools; the friend of my older cousin he made my heart flip in a way I'd never experienced before (have never experienced since, either; even now if I was to see him he's make me go all goofy and stupid!!!). Boys to me were just friends; sadly so many females don't understand that.
I went to a different high school than everyone else, in the hope that would stop the bullying; all it did was bring forth a new set - why do the bullies always hang out in groups of 3? Have you noticed that? There are always 3 of them; the ring-leader and 2 silly little flunkies who do exactly what they are told. Again, the same thing happened. I made friends with the boys. I literally have 1 female friend in school and we gelled because she was like me. She understood I looked at the boys only as friends (except the one I sat with in geography; I could have dated him if he'd ever asked, but even now, him and I are still really good friends (the thoughts of dating him disappeared after a few months when I realised he wasn't boyfriend material)). The whole bullying thing went on until year 9 when I finally flipped one day and took out the ringleader; nobody (at school at least) ever bullied me again. However, by then the damage was done, my hatred of school was ingrained into my very being (aside from geography I had no interest in the lessons and because I was a girl I wasn't allowed to choose the lessons I really wanted to do in my final 2 years - how that's changed these days!!). This is why I looked forward to the summer holidays so much.
Out of school I had a cracking group of friends (am still friends with them now). Made up of boys - mainly - with a couple of other girls (who were like me in so many ways) they all went to a different school to me, so getting together at weekends and throughout the holidays was something we all looked forward to. There were always at least 6 of us, often as many as 12 and we had the best times. Where we live we are blessed to have a woods (a 2 minute walk for me, an 8 minute for those who lived further away) so really close for us all. If the rain was too heavy (oh yes, we went out every day no matter what the weather - none of this staying indoors in front of a TV, computer or mobile phone screen for us lot) then we'd head off to an old unused railway line (a reverse of distance to the woods, so 2 minutes for those away from the woods, 8 minutes for those of us right on them) The railway line has a tunnel which runs under the 6 lane motorway above, so it was great for hanging out in on the rainy days.
We'd be out anywhere from 8am (some who had to do household chores didn't get out until 10am). All of us had to be home by 5pm for dinner, then we'd meet back up the woods again for 6 - 6.30pm. Coming in at night varied for each of us; the general consensus being 9pm for me, however, if David (who I still go camping with several times a year) was allowed out until 10pm, as long as he asked my Mum and Dad (rather than I asked) then I was allowed out until whatever time he was allowed out until.
On really hot days we'd venture down to a local river (that used to take us 25 minutes to walk to) but for the most part our days were spent in the woods. Occasionally some of the "older" kids (those who were 2/3 years older than us) would venture down but they were the brothers of our group, so while they'd give us some stick, there was never anything nasty to it. I learnt more about life hanging out with my friends than I could ever have learned in school. We'd been hanging out down the woods from the ages of 5/6. Partly because every single person on the estate where we lived knew who we were, who our parents were, and all had permission to tell us off if we were misbehaving (my friends Dad once dragged a few of the boys home by their ears!!). Having so many people about, also meant we were able to play safely down the woods because there was an adult never more than a couple of minutes away. We built dens, made tree houses, had a great rope swing (it snapped once when I was sitting on it with 13 other people on top of me - we wanted to see how many people we could get on in one go and have it swing; that hurt when I landed, that much I can tell you, but we got a good 5 back and forths out of it). As we got to teenagers and began smoking (such a stupid thing to do) we all had our own hiding places to stash our ciggies - nobody ever took someone else's. Unlike kids today though, when we left those woods (or the subway) each evening, you would never know we had been there. No trees were broken and damaged, no rubbish was left behind (not even a cigarette butt). I walk my dog through the same woods every weekend and to see the state the kids leave the place in, absolutely breaks my heart. I was taught whenever I went anywhere that you "take nothing but photographs, and leave behind nothing but footprints". This is something I stick to even today; I only wish more parents were to teach their children this. There is such a lack of respect for anything these days (not just people, but places also) part of me is glad I am unable to have children, because any kids of mine wouldn't fit in today's world; they'd be taught right-from-wrong and lord help them if they didn't follow the countryside codes, or show respect to their elders. Discipline seems to have fallen by the wayside. Back in my day if we'd left litter any number of people would have dragged us home by our hair, where we'd have been "for it" with our parents. These days you daren't even mention to a kid about picking up their litter because you never know what they're likely to do (so many kids, even little ones, carry knives on them these days - it's safer to just stay quiet; what an awful world we are living in).
I do think though, that part of the reason I enjoy IT by Stephen King so much, is because it reminds me of those lazy school holidays, when I got to hang out the people who meant so much to me. If you've not read it, give it a try - I know it's classed as a horror and there is a nasty clown in it, but to me it's not a horror at all; it's so much more than that. It's about friendships forged, bonds that can never be broken, bonds that are made through strong friendships. It's about a mis-matched group of friends who go through everything with each other. I can relate every single character in the book to people from my childhood - people who are still in my life now - people who made the school holidays such an amazing time, who gave me so many fantastic memories.
I'm actually a little (a lot) jealous of all those kids who have woken up today, knowing they have the next 6 weeks ahead of them, free from the restraints of school. I only hope they spend as much of it as they can out in the open (cleaning up after themselves and doing no damage) than they do sat in front of a screen.