Confessions of a History Student: How NOT to Win Friends and Influence People

I could only answer one question on the history exam paper. It said something like, ‘Describe a day in the life of…’ I don’t remember the rest of the question. But the first seven words inspired my creative juices, and a story began to build.

I was only eleven. I had joined my new school six weeks before the end of first year, right in the middle of their exams. I wasn’t expected to be able to answer any of the questions, but I was told to have a go anyway. I guess they didn’t know what else to do with me.

I have been both a writer, and a student of history, probably from as long ago as when I learned to read and to write. To this day, I can’t figure out why I am so drawn to the peoples of the past.

My father loved reading and history, but he played such a small part in my life, that I don’t feel I can credit him as my inspiration. I lived on the island of Cyprus for a while during my childhood, where I was surrounded by crumbling ancient sites in the process of being lovingly restored by archaeologists, but my interest was already formed long before we moved there; I remember asking for history books one Christmas when we still lived in Kuwait, and that was before I had ever set foot in a Greek burial chamber or Roman amphitheatre. I would have been about seven or eight at the time.

So what did I write about? I imagined myself as a child of the Iron Age; I described the house I lived in, the food I ate for breakfast, that I did not go to school but had work to do, how I made myself a doll which I wove from straw stolen from the roof of my hut, how my brother whittled a sword from a stick of wood, what my village looked like, how I went to bed as soon as it got dark… it was a complete flight of fancy based on the history books I had read. Nothing at all to do with the school curriculum.

Imagine my surprise a week later when the history teacher read out my story in class. I remember squirming in my seat whilst the heat of a blush burned in my cheeks. A covert glance around the room informed me that my fellow students were not amused or entertained by my story. Their stony faces and glaring eyes confused me, but it wasn’t long before I learned what that meant.

I was instantly branded a teacher’s pet, a know-it-all, a goody-two-shoes, a swat. I wore very thick glasses, which proved a great source for torment. They changed my surname from ‘Isaac’ to ‘one-eye’s-(h)igher-than-the-other’. I didn’t talk like them, so they called me a snob. Those who did not bully me did not befriend me either. I was a stranger, an outsider, and together they colluded in making me feel like one.

If I had known how my story was to influence the way my fellow students saw me, I would have left the page blank. I never imagined then, that a few words on a page could hold so much power. Not that it was totally to blame, but it was the catalyst for my rough treatment.

Around this time, my parents split up. My dad had always worked away from home for extended periods of time, sometimes for so long that I didn’t recognise him when he came home, so his not being around made little difference. But there were other family issues, too, which made life difficult.

And it was hard to adjust to living in this cold, wet, grey country with its unwelcoming people when the only life I had ever known had been filled with the warmth of the climate and the people around me. My bedroom window back in Cyprus didn’t even have glass in it, just a wooden shutter.

The bullying carried on into third year, after which it fizzled out. During that time, I settled in, got to know people, and made some friends. My school years, though, were never really a happy time for me, even though I did quite well, and won the school prize for English five years in a row.

When I left school I worked in an office for a couple of years until I was old enough to run away and join the Royal Air Force. Out of the frying pan and into the fire? Well, that’s another story…

And the moral… every story has to have a moral, right? Ok then, here goes: Always be true to who you are. Don’t let other people push you around, be confident and stand up for yourself. Never run away from things, they’ll only catch up with you in the end. I should know; I ran away from school, and now I’ve ended up back there, and it’s much harder at this stage. I seem to be one of those people who always does everything the wrong way round!


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60 Comments on “Confessions of a History Student: How NOT to Win Friends and Influence People

  1. Great inspiration Ali. Bullying was taken as dangerous as it has come today. But staying true to what we believe is paramount. Unfortunately, when we’re not encouraged by nurturing people in our lives that it’s okay to stay true to ourselves we don’t always know it when we’re younger. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Debby that is so true. But it’s hard for adults to see what is going on if a child doesn’t open up. We have to be vigilant as parents, because we do tend to grt wrapped up in our own problems, such as career or financial worries, and put down out of character behaviour in our children as teenage angst or rebellion, for example. Also that young people look to us as their role models even in circumstances where we might not perceive of ourselves as such. We as adults need to be aware of that. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel so much empathy Ali, I was bullied mercilessly at school. I also hid inside my writing and my head. You are so right we should never try and be what we are not but we need to be the best at what we are! 💜💜

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bullies will attack anyone they see as vulnerable. I know of a boy at my son’s school who is practically immobile in a motorised wheelchair and bullies were taking his dinner money. Kids can be horrid at times.

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      • Yes children can be very horrible I do wander why we humans are so nasty to eachother. Keep well and keep smiling and hope to see you in May. 💜

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        • I wonder that all the time. But we have to remind ourselves that the nasty ones are a minority. 😊 At the moment I’m not sure about the Bash… I have my ticket, but its in the middle of my exams, so I wont know until nearer the time.

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          • Oh! That’s a good point, but I even wonder that sometimes. Yet we need to keep positive and do our bit where we can. As for the Bash we would all love to see you but you know best what you need to do. Well done for doing your exams now. I admire how you do that and still run you home and children. I left school with no qualifications. I got out of that convent at 15yrs and became an apprentice widow dresser, I didn’t go to college as I was scared of being bullied so worked my way up from the bottom. Sometimes I regret not taking exam, and as I say I really admire you. Well if you can’t come this year there is always FB and Skype and What’sapp. We will miss you but you come first 🌹🌹🌹🌹hugs xx

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            • Aw thank you! I will really try to be there, but every semester I have had an exam fall on a Saturday! I only went to uni because I had to do something for me before Carys finishes school and I am tied to her care. At this age, I have moved beyond caring what others think, or bullying! Lol! Let them try! One of my fellow students is 60… its never too late to go back to college, Willow, and mature students always do much better than the younger ones.

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  3. Oh my gosh, you’ve led an interesting life! How inspiring to grow up among ancient ruins that way. I was born and raised in the same small town and never moved until I was fifty, lol.
    I’m sorry you went through the torture of bullying, my grandson is facing some of the same issues now. He’s a Type 1 Diabetic and kids bug what they don’t understand so he’s having a tough time.
    Really enjoyed the post and have followed you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for following and commenting, Jacquie! 💕 I hope your grandson’s bullies are dealt with soon. Schools are more aware of the effects of bullying now than they were in our day, and have developed effective strategies for dealing with it, but only if they know about it. It’s hard enough coping with something like diabetes without the extra hassle of mindless idiots. Hugs to both of you!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Ali,
    I’m so glad Hugh introduced you to us. I loved your story. I must look for your other writings because I enjoy your style. My dad was a career military man and we moved frequently. I knew the feeling of being the ‘new kid’ in school. Thank you for sharing a piece of your world. HUGS

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Chuck, thank you so much for your lovely comment. I feel for you, having to endure that ‘new kid’ experience so many times. It never gets any easier, does it? Parents don’t realise the impact it can have, but even if they do, they still have to follow careers and provide for their family. It’s a tough call. Thanks for stopping by, and for following my blog. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You have had a very interesting life, Allie. It is really hard being the new kids. We moved 21 times and I went to 14 different schools as a child so I know all about it. Glad you have found your path in life.

    Liked by 2 people

    • 😲😲😲 21 times??? 14 schools??? Yet you survived! Well, that must have toughened you up. Did it make you restless as an adult, or determined to settle in one place?

      Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I have also been like that as an adult, always moving on to a new home, new part of the country, moving jobs, moving eventually to Ireland, where I had my children, and suddenly decided I wanted to put down roots to give them the stability I never had as a child.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Confessions of a History Student: How Not To Win Friends and Influance People – Hugh's Views & News

  7. What a heartwarming read, Ali. I feel like it’s the beginning of your life story. Writing about sad parts of our lives can be such a difficult thing to do, but you’ve done it and I admire you for doing so. I think it only goes to prove what a brilliant writer you are. Your post contains some important lessons of life that we should all adhere to. I hope those behind me, and who will be on this earth for a long time after me, read this post and learn from it.

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    • Thanks Hugh. I always find writing about unpleasant experiences so cathartic, as well as painful. For me it’s a way of achieving closure, or acceptance at least, and letting go. Thanks for your encouragement. I appreciate it. And it has to be said, such experiences make you stronger, but maybe that depends on the type of person you are. 😊😙

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  8. This is an excellent post… I liked the moral at the end… And couldn´t agree more.
    Thing is we are used to that “popular vs nerd /loser” typification, and when we are kids or teenagers it could be really a burden, so I get you: I was a very good student and felt a lot of pressure to fit in while I was at High School. Paradoxically, one of the most popular girls was a good friend of mine, but she lived as and adult and I probably was still playing with Barbies while she was doing things I would be doing years later… Anyway, she was a good friend… That´s life I guess. Being true to ourselves is what ultimately defines us; I firmly believe so… Love & best wishes , dear Ali 😀

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    • Thank you, lovely Aquileana! I agree with you. Trying to fit in just makes you miserable. I can imagine you were a top straight A student! Thanks for visiting, hope you are well and happy. Xxx

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  9. well the blogging world is glad you ran away here Ali and found a little niche on these pages. Tough old life, but its helped make you the lovely and formidable writer you are today. There, enough of that complimentary stuff….

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Love the story (not the content, the storytelling). That’s horrible and, unfortunately, not uncommon. You’re certainly in good company being bullied and/or ostracized. Ah, well. Look at you now. ❤ 🙂 Great advice/moral. Love that. Be well, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sarah. Isn’t it strange that bullying is one of those taboo topics we just don’t talk about? Maybe because it’s painful to remember, but it’s surprising how many people have experienced it, and how can we ever deal with it if we don’t even talk about it? Hope all is good with you, my lovely. Xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      • There’s a lot about bullying out there now but not years ago when I was growing up. Or, perhaps, now I think on it, we talk about prevention and how to deal with the aftermath but not while we’re going through it…perhaps that hasn’t changed at all.

        I’m working towards “good”. ❤ Hope all is well with you, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry to hear you were made fun of as a child, Ali. I experienced some of that myself in junior high school. I feel like we are kindred spirits in the way that neither of us has followed typical paths in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never knew that about you, Rachele. I guess bullying is not an experience we talk about. I suppose, whichever side one stands on, we try to forget about it. I wonder how the bullies justify it to themselves in later life, or do they remain bullies all their lives?

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  12. Ah, the time spent by children trying to pretend they’re less intelligent than they are. And we wonder how the hell we’ve ended up with the people in power we have…. I’m glad your story has a happy ending, Ali.

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    • All that running away Tara and I finally ended up home… in Ireland, a country I had never been before. Funny how things turn out. When I lived in Wales, I never had any interest in hopping over to Ireland on the ferry. I never imagined then that I would fall in love with a country, and of all the countries I’ve experienced, I thought if I did it would be one of the more exotic (and sunny, and warm) ones.

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  13. You have done and been such a mixed bag of stuff, Ali! Not surprising you’ve ended up a writer who needs to get back to the root of all questions. You’re doing just fine!

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  14. I’m sorry I couldn’t move to Cyprus to befriend you Ali, but if you’d been in my school ( and unfortunately for you, my year) I’d likely have had a crush on you but we’d certainly have been friends as I loved history and English above all else, in fact they were l cared about. But. if you’d been in my year you’d have well retired by now and may not have gone back to college as you have now. You’d have missed the fun you’re having, sorry.
    xxx Gigantic Hugs xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • David, I think we would have had great craic if we had been at school together! Btw, with those glasses I had to wear as a child, no one could possibly have had a crush on me, not even anyone as kind and lovely as you! Experiences make you stronger, right? Especially the tough ones. Thanks for your lovely comment. Huge hugs to you too. Xxx

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  15. “Don’t let other people push you around. Be confident. Stand up for yourself. Never run away from things.”
    Great advice, Ali. Bullying is one of my pet hates.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Reading your excerpt, the song by Frank Sinatra, ‘I Did It My Way’ sums up your experiences. You were an exceptionally young soul. Or maybe an exceptionally old soul, returning once again to complete what was not completed when last they were here.

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    • Ooooh… that last bit of your comment made me shiver, Dianne! Funny though, I never deliberately set out to do things ‘my way’, it just kind of happened. I guess it was the way things were supposed to happen for me, the right way for me. Of course I had choice, but I rarely remember an agony of decision making, so perhaps mostly the way forward always seemed quite clear to me. Interesting. I’ve never really thought of it that way, so thank you. 😊😙

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