Rachel Smalley 'intelligent, erudite'

04:53, Apr 03 2014

Rachel Smalley once changed my life.

She probably doesn't remember it.

We went to high school together in Christchurch.

It was a country school where studying agriculture and horticulture were compulsory. The kind of place where the notion of becoming a journalist was somewhat fanciful.

''Smalley'' as she was known, ran with the cool crowd. Girls who did fantastical things with their fringes that I tried to emulate with copious amounts of hair gel but which never really worked.

I hang out with the other two goths and mooched around a lot listening to the Smiths and Joy Division.


Even as a teen Smalley had a well developed sense of humour. She was known for it.

Intelligent, witty and sarcastic, she rolled out hilarious one-liners in geography while a man with an unprintable nickname waved a stick at a blackboard. He often threw chalk at her rather viciously.

Like many teens I felt different and weird and that I didn't belong. A square peg in a round hole.

In the throes of the beginning of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, something I battled into my early 20s, one day I felt so miserable I decided that I didn't want to be around any more. I had a beautiful loving family, a great home and friends but still felt desperately alone.

There was a tradition at this country school of flushing ''turds''.

First-year students had their heads held in the toilet by older students. The toilet would then be flushed leaving them crying, wet and with the vague odour of toilet duck.

Such was the scene that greeted me as I entered, on my way to exit this mortal coil. It all seemed so huge and dramatic at the time, as teen life often does.

Instead I helped the ''turd'' mop up the water and dried her tears.

Just as she left, still damp, Smalley, with her bump of a fringe and freckled nose, appeared.

We weren't friends and I don't know if she sussed out what I was doing there, but we talked, as girls often do by the sink in toilets for some reason, and she made me realise that things weren't really so bad and that I was just a bit down.

Earlier that day, in an English exam, I had written a somewhat sarcastic version of Romeo & Juliet. Owen Marshall, visiting the class, had read it and praised it but the unimpressed teacher had still given me a D as I hadn't followed the brief.

Smalley said it had made her laugh so much she had snort-laughed.

We quickly established that we both wanted to be writers or journalists when we grew up but at that country school, at that time, the idea of it becoming reality for either of us was extremely remote.

We didn't become friends after that incident, she still hung with the cool crowd, I still hung with the goths.

But as the years have passed I've often been vicariously proud of her achievements. Intelligent, fair and erudite, she is an excellent journalist.

While I was feeding babies at 3am, she'd appear on the TV, cutting a talking head down to size on BBC World. ''Go Smalley,'' I'd think to myself.

Women can be particularly cruel to each other.

Women are often judged by the size of their bodies, not the size of their impact upon the world.

Having had children and something of a heifer, I am confident and happy because I know that a real woman is not defined by her curves but by her deeds, her heart and her soul.

Just as Smalley should not be defined by one thoughtless mean comment.

The Press