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  • Gemma Speakman

Mrs Bannister started the emoji movement back in 1985....


Scribbling a note down to my daughter's teacher the other morning in haste, I found myself inadvertently signing off with one of the above. It wasn't planned and it happened amongst a series of other things (Mum, can you cut this hairband out, I've spilt yogurt down my dress, I'm still hungry can I have a kit-kat (at 8.04am? I realise I'm a vulnerable multi-tasker little 5 year old, but the answer is still no).

I pondered why I'd even drawn it - and then all of a sudden there was an outpouring of nostalgia and I was back in Infants 3 again, feeling the warm hug of learning I got from my teacher and the smiley faces she decorated the page with when she was pleased with my work. Smiley faces by Mrs Bannister were dished out quite generously but, occasionally not, and if there wasn't one at the end of the page when my work was handed back, it was quite hard to hide my disappointment. The smiley face was so much more than the humble (granted, very effective) tick. It somehow had emotion actually attached to it. The negative feeling of not having one made me realise if I just tried a bit harder, I wouldn't ever need to feel like this, so I kept trying harder and my levels of what I was capable of were unwittingly, pushed up. The smiley face came to endorse and better my sense of achievement at school and the little symbols made me and the rest of my peers feel happy inside. I LOVED being in her class and I think the humble smiley face (that also appeared to have a hat/half halo) was a lot to do with it. It created positivity and made the pupils (as young as we were), strive.

It made me think how small gestures and symbols have the capacity to change rather a lot. We've all been there when you cringe realising you've put loads of kisses on a text or whats app to your boss, or the plumber or the pest man and we've all also been there when we ponder whether the sign off language should be taken as a slight or a suggestion - the curt 'regards, kind regards', 'best,' 'love,' right up to, 'kisses & hugs & hoping to see you later ;) xoxoxo' etc. Particularly nowadays it's clear that our predilection to use more than words to embellish a message or feeling is clearly on the rise wit the emoticon/emoji owning a symbolic language of its own, and employing a whole army of people, charged with creating, maintaining and updating the emoji symbols (I noted the other week the salad emoji had to have the hard boiled eggs removed, so as to not offend vegans).

Vegans can sleep at night, now that the emoji world is conformative - just don't ask why other salad items are not present....

Back in the virtual world, an unexpected smile or a laugh from a hard face in a bad situation can change everything instantly in the same way an angry comment or gesture can immediately pull the tone completely the other way.

Smiley face aside for a moment, one day I came to realise in my Infants 3 class that actually it was completely surpassable. Unbeknown to me, there was a completely higher level of achievement with this teacher - in the shape of a gold star. They were given very deservedly but as though not make them too easy to come by they were dished out very sparingly. Needless to say, once I realised this higher state of achievement was a possibility, I was DESPERATE to get a gold star. Every night I'd go home to my mum and dad and tell them 'I nearly got one.' Of course I probably didn't, but in my 7 year old head, I was constantly trying and my Dad always told me that was enough. But the academic year was trundling on and I was almost resigned to never acheiving this golden symbol of accomplishment. One day, having got my art work back (at which I was not and still am not, talented at all), I nonchalantly opened my book (I'd given up peering hoping to see a golden fleck (like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory), and there it was in all its golden humble tininess. Like a celebrity in real life, always smaller than you think but still, A GOLD star, shining and there - tucked nearly into the far right bottom corner, unassuming but nonetheless marked with what it symbolised. I was completely ecstatic and bursting inside.

I could not wait to run home and tell my parents it wasn't nearly, it was actual and it was very much there, on the page. Finally I had made it, and it was proof at a young age that I had it within me to strive, aim higher and do it. A driving emotion that was born from a seemingly innocuous small symbol into something that well over 30 years later, is still present like a flame and still has the ability to propel me forward.

So next time you're feeling like you're happy with your lot, you're doing everything you should be doing and things are a-okay, take a moment to ponder that as humans we're often only functioning on a small percentage of what we are capable of. Maybe wonder where your own gold stars are? There's many of them within us - you just need to look inward to coax them out so that they can shine bright. Team England, about tonight's game, I'm also talking to you.


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