Once upon a life

Shappi Khorsndi in The Guardian:

Shappi-Khorsandi-006 My first day at secondary school and I had come prepared for a game of French elastic. My mum had even found a shop which sold the elastic in red so that was bound to win me even more new friends. Blissfully unaware that my thick, black toilet-brush hair, my chubby legs and my bubbly posh voice were any kind of barrier to popularity in a state comprehensive, I bounced into my new school. Almost immediately I realised I was to keep the elastic deep in my bag. I was never to play French elastic again. The other children looked much older than 12. The girls had make-up on and permed hair. Their legs were shaved and the uniform they wore was not from the shop recommended in the letter sent by the school. They spoke confidently to boys and frequently found reasons to link arms and cackle wildly.

Other children from my primary school had transformed themselves over the summer holidays. They spoke a little cockney, they had gel in their hair and none of them, not a single one, asked another first year if they wanted to play “it” at playtime. Despite coming from a very cosy primary school and all knowing each other since we were five, my former friends now gave me a wide berth. Association with my unfashionable clothes, unruly hair and lack of street smarts would have been social suicide. So, although they didn't join in with shouts of “Oi! Mophead!” or “Look! It's The Incredible Bulk!”, they severed all ties. There was a cluster of us misfits who clung to each other like shipwreck survivors to a plank of wood. These weren't friendships. We hung around together, ate lunch together because there was safety in numbers. When one of us was singled out and hounded like a lone gazelle, the rest would turn away, glad that, for now, it wasn't us. Waiting in the line for lunch one day, one of the brashest of the girls decided it was my turn. “Whatchoolookin' at?” was the 80s battle cry, then in a flash my hair was in a fist which was leading my head hard and fast into a metal locker. What this girl did not know about me, and was about to discover, was that I grew up scrapping with my older brother. You wouldn't have known to look at me, but I could fight.

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