I really enjoyed my time at school – I was good at the lessons (so long as we aren’t counting P.E.), I had good friends and excellent teachers. I wasn’t one of the popular girls, or the sporty ones (obviously…) and I don’t think we’d invented geeks at that point. I suppose that sometimes people were mean to me (I did have remarkable hair, like Crystal Tips, and freckles, and no idea about fashion, and my nose in a book all the time) but I don’t think I can ever recall being bullied. I’m certainly not saying it didn’t happen at my school (it was a boarding school but it certainly wasn’t Enid Blyton!) but I was never aware of it. If bullying of the kind that happens in the Lonely Life of Biddy Weir occurred I like to think I’d have been able to tell – but who knows, bullies are often so likable for anyone they aren’t victimizing.
Biddy Weir is a rather solitary child. Her mother left when she was just a baby so she was raised by her father, a middle-aged man who was himself at the mercy of his own rather overbearing mother. She is dressed almost entirely from charity shops and her father has very old-fashioned views on modern life but she is happy enough. She isn’t bothered about having friends, preferring to watch the birds and draw, so she is not prepared for what happens when a new girl joins her class at primary school. Alison Flemming is pretty, clever and popular but she decides that Biddy is weird and she makes sure that everyone agrees with her. The bullying escalates over the years, with Alison being clever enough to get her groupies to do most of her dirty work, until it all becomes too much for Biddy on a residential school trip. The descriptions of the acts of bullying are, frankly, awful – but mostly because they are so realistic. What I found even harder to deal with was the fact that almost every teacher or adult involved in Biddy’s life seems to take the side of the prettier, easier, more ‘normal’ child – it is uncomfortable to think of times when that has been the easiest way to deal with a group of youngsters.
But the book is not all doom and gloom and it is all because of Biddy herself. She is a hugely endearing character who wants to be allowed to live her life. She is obviously intelligent and a talented artist and, as she rebuilds her life after her father’s death leaves her all alone, she strikes up a friendship with a semi-retired counsellor which gives her the confidence to carry on. Biddy eventually learns the most important lesson: being normal is highly over-rated and weird, if that is who you are, can be wonderful.