Bumble was a near neighbour when I was a little girl growing up in Headington. I hated her. Not, I hasten to add, because she had done anything (she hadn’t) – because I hated Penny (who lived a three minute walk away) too.
So what was it with these two small girls, one seven years and three weeks younger and the other thirteen months my junior (note: I had the weird memory for birth dates even then!)?
Jealousy and a strange kind of grief, in both cases. You see, they were, for a while, the best friends of my next two sisters down – and I, with no best friend of my own (and a very close early bond with sibling one), was roused to anger and violence and confusion and resentment.
I had best friends, but they left me (Bruce went to Australia when we were five; Cathie Elliott moved to another part of the country when we were nine and I never saw her again). I was heart-broken, inconsolable for ages, cried and cried and felt so lost and hurt I can recall that feeling even now.
I can see now – and to my shame – that I took this horrible wounded feeling out on those two younger children, tormenting Bumble and, on one hot and spiteful day, whacking Penny over the nose with a maraca.
I knew, even then, that my actions were mean, uncontrolled and wrong. Sly, too, in the case of Bumble: I didn’t let the adults see the small acts of bullying I indulged in on the slight slope of our front garden, and I admit I got a nasty thrill, a shaming sense of power, from her fear.
But seeing the blood flowing from Penny’s nose stopped me in my tracks. It was a real wake-up call, a sign of something I was capable of and did not want to encourage. Similarly, the day Bumble’s unspoken anxiety became tears, my heart turned over with sorrow and mute apology: How could I – bullied so often myself – inflict this upon a child seven years younger? Or any child, come to that?
Both of those children are now grown women in their fifties. They may well both be parents and grandparents. I have not seen either of them since the seventies.
But the word ‘bumble’ still has a freight of guilt and sadness attached to it, and I wrote this piece through a haze of tears.