When I was 14, my class at school went to Chur, Switzerland, on an exchange trip. We were all parcelled out to what we rather facetiously called our "Swiss mothers" in different houses around the town, and attended the local Steiner school.
I was quite new to the class, having only joined the year before, and already rather unpopular for having been given (how dare I be) the role of Miranda, the only female appearing in The Tempest. In Chur, however, I was cast into outer darkness by the entire class for saying that the two popular girls, Laura and Tara, only bought clothes at a trendy shop in town, Globus, because it was trendy, and not because they really liked them. (This was the early 1980s so we are talking fluorescent batwing t-shirts here.)
This throwaway, bitchy remark, of course, may have been true, albeit rather cruel, and was given in a moment of madness to Olwen, a nasty little washed-out sneak fond of wearing lipstick the colour of bubblegum. Of course in an instant it became a classroom sensation (I can even remember the news passing like a Mexican wave through the classroom as one person whispered it to another); the fatwa was issued; and I was a wretch, to whom it was forbidden to speak, from then on.
Laura and Tara had been invited for lunch at my house, but the news broke the day before and they didn't turn up. My Swiss mother had cooked a splendid meal and I was unable to explain what had happened ("sie kommen nicht... sie kommen nicht") and cried copiously into my pasta. They were forced by our teacher to come round and apologise with flowers, a humiliating act which made them hate me even more.
My problem was compounded by the fact that my own mother had volunteered to come along to help the class. So I was not only a cast-iron bitch, but a teacher's pet as well. I avoided school as much as I could, and stayed in my attic room watching poorly dubbed Lee Majors series ("Ein Colt fur alle Falle") and reading an American magazine about how to get your "fanny" into shape and why Karen Carpenter's death resonated with us all. The view from the little window is burned into my memory forever.
Years later I shared a flat with Tara at university and she apologised to me for the way they had behaved. I wasn't ready to be magnanimous then: it was the biggest, most devastating event of my life so far. The rest of the trip I've pretty much blocked out. By the green shores of impassive Lake Lucerne, I redeemed myself slightly by losing at spin the bottle, in a late night game in our youth hostel, and having to run across the room naked. So I thought, but when we got home and the photos from the trip came down from the wall of the classroom, having been displayed there fora few weeks, I discovered that someone scratched my face with the point of a compass in every picture I appeared in.