bethany reading

Starting over after Bethany

Is it true that school days are the best of your life? This month, all the writing prompts are about new beginnings, which seems apt given we’re at the start of a brand new year. But new beginnings can be from any perspective depending on how you choose to view them, and our school days are no different.

Perhaps there was a day when something ‘clicked’; I certainly remember a moment during my Master’s degree when it all came together in a classic lightbulb moment and I could see how everything connected to everything else! What if you chose to stand up to a bully, made a new friend, or discovered a favourite subject or teacher? The day you start and the day you leave are endings and beginnings, offering us a way of reflecting on what has been, versus what is to come.

The aim of a word square is to choose at least one word from each column, more if you can. Then weave them into a story, an opening sentence, a first paragraph or a poem. The words are simple; crafting something unusual, unexpected or different with them is more challenging.

Please feel free to share your effort below, you will get feedback if you want it. Alternatively, you can add it to your own website if you have one and then provide a link in the comments for the rest of us to visit.

My effort can be read below, I have marked the words with bold type:

Bethany. The mention of her name flips my stomach decades later.
Bethany. My nemesis. The girl who made school life harder than it needed to be when it should have been easy.
Bethany. My best friend. I still don’t know what happened to turn us from each other. One day we were joined at the hip, parents joking we needed surgery to separate us. The next it was as if I didn’t exist. She would blank me in the corridor, and turn her back when I walked into class. Most hurtful of all was when she told other’s the secrets I’d shared when I was certain and safe in the knowledge she always had my back.
Bethany. She died yesterday. Part of me wants to call her parents and share memories from long ago, tell them how sorry I am she has gone. But the history of us means I’ll never do that. Instead, I’ll mourn her leaving privately and wonder what might have been if only I’d said sorry for whatever school-girl transgression I’d committed.

Now it’s your turn. Why not use the comment area below to share your own new beginning?

January word square: teacher, pupil, best friend, bully. College, School, University, Nursery. Lesson, Playtime, Register, Leaving. Geography, History, Art, Biology

(Image by Petra from Pixabay


  1. Interesting piece as always, Linda. A simple memoir piece around all of these words might be taking the easy way out…so…hmmm… need to think. Bear with, bear with….

    1. Thanks Lesley, glad you liked it and of course, it takes a little time to develop something doesn’t it 🙂

  2. Hi Linda – that’s a moving piece – with a Jacqueline Wilson vibe. Watching your kids deal with the ups and downs of friendships at school is even harder than dealing with it yourself.

    1. Aw shucks, thanks Iain. I love the Jacqueline Wilson books and am flattered you thought it had that sort of a vibe about it. And you’re right about watching those you love make mistakes and not being able to do anything about them because that’s how we grow.

      1. Jacqueline Wilson is one of those authors for whom I have a deep respect, despite having never read a word she’s written. I’ve listened to her talk, read her interviews, caught snippets of TV adaptations and hear what other people say about her. Respect!

  3. Meanwhile… I couldn’t come up with a fictional premise, so doing what I do, and if every word of this is true – I can only hope the dead can’t sue.

    ~ ~ ~

    “School days are the best days
    of your life,” my mother told me.
    Dad shook his silent head and
    mouthed, “do not believe it”.

    I was bred on his love of learning
    and books and reading, and yet
    his head teacher handed him the
    School Certificate, telling him he
    did not deserve it.

    Still, when others cried to stay in nursery,
    I did so to be allowed with my brother
    to the classroom, where there were
    stories on the wall and pits of sand
    and milk at playtime.

    Sugar Hill Junior Mixed was the best of times.

    The Avenue Comprehensive mixed the best
    with the worst, laughter with the spoils
    and sorrows of a world less kind.

    Under the guise of ‘general science’
    smelly Smailes showed first-years’
    a Swedish porn film, to our shocked silence,
    faces reddening in the darkened
    lab – and not just ours – I remember
    strange sounds and the scent of
    leaking gas from unlit Bunsen Burners.

    I remember Art, Mr Brack, a bully
    through and through, who would
    chalk the sole of a plimsoll for
    a failed-homework whack, punishment
    not enough, we had to be marked in
    the register of uncreative humiliation.

    To my best friend from that Sugar Hill,
    through every pantomime and party and
    exam stress, I would be forgotten history,
    after only one term away at university.

    I came home to find her engaged, and
    pregnant, her very own lesson
    in biology,

    not shared with me,

    while I still strived, no longer a star pupil,
    and ill-suited to college life, I worked
    and skived, and somehow contrived
    that 2:1 that meant I hadn’t failed.
    At least, I had survived.

    And my Dad smiled, still talking of his
    own geography, the “one ship” stories,
    and what life teaches better than any
    blackboard, mortar-boarded, just-bored
    master, and to end still believing that
    the best of your school days, is the day
    of leaving.

    ~ / ~

    1. What is fiction but truth dressed up with facts we didn’t notice at the time. And what a wonderful journey through education too – I’m jealous of the experience and perhaps next time I do a Word Square, I too may try out all the words I use. I could cheat, after all I choose the words, but I’ll try hard not too.

      My favourite of your piece Lesley is “And my Dad smiled, still talking of his
      own geography, the “one ship” stories,
      and what life teaches better than any
      blackboard, mortar-boarded, just-bored
      master, and to end still believing that
      the best of your school days, is the day
      of leaving.”

      Just brilliant.

  4. Wow Lesley, if those schools are still going I’ll bet those comments won’t be on their respective websites! Some fabulous phrases – smelly Smailes sounds like he should have been anywhere but in a school – the deputy head (a nun) at our place would have had a fit if someone had shown that.
    The unwilling recipient of a few plimsoll whacks myself, I loved your description of a register of uncreative humiliation. I would have had a permanent page in it for woodwork.

  5. Looking back, I blush to think of the pleasure I felt as I walked up the driveway to the school that day. Even though it was in the middle of nowhere and clearly in need of repair and renovation, gaining a teacher’s position there had given me a golden chance to start again and help Kate and mother. The university of life might have dealt me a rough hand, but I was determined to succeed.

    Sadly, as I crossed the threshold, little did I know that I had entered a college of cruelty.

    The owner – whom I will not dignify by using his name – was not a teacher, but a sadist with a mortar board. His only friend was the stick, not the carrot and I am heartily ashamed it took me so long to register that fact. I never studied biology, but soon became convinced that running through this man’s veins was not the milk of human kindness, but iced water.

    The history of each pupil was unimportant to him – he treated them all in the same appalling way.
    For him, playtime was an opportunity to terrorise. Even very young children – who in any just world should have been in a nursery, were exposed to such cruelty and brutality that the only lesson they learned was fear. I came to believe none of these unfortunate souls would have feared damnation – they were already familiar with hell.

    The one good day’s work I did there was to grab the cane he was using to hit you and give him a taste of his own medicine. His pathetic, snivelling response exposed him as a bully and a coward.

    It was only as we were leaving that I realised I had no idea of the geography of the county and would soon be lost. Luckily, you were with me, and buoyed by each other’s company we sought friendlier skies.

    Meeting you was the one saving grace of my time as a teacher. A kinder, faithful, more gentle soul never lived and the love you gave and inspired in everyone who met you is a lasting tribute to your memory.

    Rest in peace Smike

    Your friend forever,


    1. You can’t beat a retelling of Nicholas Nickleby by someone who sees the artistry in an alternative perspective. Perhaps this could be your “thing” Iain, telling the stories of the marginal characters.

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