First blog post

This is the post excerpt.

 

  • I want to tell the story of my life, the circumstances of my beginnings and events that led to my somewhat unorthodox, private adoption and the untruths tangled within it. It was the start of a complicated and chaotic life in a large mixed up family. There was hard work, tears, abuse and oppression, but also love, immense laughter, enduring relationships and a rich tapestry of memories.

The eventual search for my natural family has resulted in a combination of heartache and happiness. It has answered some questions and raised others. Ultimately it has provided me with a history, unbreakable blood ties and a sense that, at last, I am not purely defined defined by my status of ‘the adopted one’.

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She had to have the last word!

Bury

Sylvie always had to have the last word, no matter what.

As it turned out, this even was to be the case when it came to her death.

It was a cold Thursday evening in mid January and I had popped in to Sylvie’s to pick up my daughter on my way home from work.

On the stove was one of Sylvie’s lovely stews, bubbling away and smelling delicious. As I was helping myself to spoonful, Sylvie was trying to get me to have a bowlful of another of her specialties – a treacle suet pudding. I laughed and said no, I just wanted a taste and that dinner would be waiting for me at home.

Sylvie followed me down the hallway to the front door to see me out. As we opened the front door, a freezing cold blast of air swirled in and we shivered, pulling our clothes tight around us.

I gave Sylvie a peck on the cheek saying, “See you tomorrow,”  and adding, “Get yourself inside out of the cold and keep the heat in.”

Looking up to the sky, Sylvie replied, ” I reckon we’re going to get some of that bloody snow from America.”  (The east coast of America had suffered heavy snow falls that week.)

She died suddenly and unexpectedly at Home the next morning.

One week late it was Sylvie’s funeral. She had wanted to be cremated, and so we decided to bury her ashes in her mother’s grave.

As we stood at the graveside in heavy snow, freezing and ankle deep, I looked to the sky and said to myself, “You were right weren’t you, we got that snow from America. – You’d have to have the last bloody word!”

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I could have done it with one hand tied behind my back!

Polish

The endless hours spent on domestic chores; washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning and such had equipped me perfectly for the subject of Home Economics (as it was known at that time). It was the days when girls were given lessons at school on how to properly iron a shirt, to cook, how to properly polish the furniture and to clean the home.

Producing the pastry to make a pie was second nature to me, and the ironing of a shirt was something I could have done with my eyes closed. The daily task of generating a meal for anything from eight to twelve of us was something I had been having to do for years.

I’m sure it is a subject I could easily have obtained a one hundred per cent grade at ‘O’ level,  had I continued it as one of my options, but the years I did have to participate in the lessons were something that was to cause me a constant headache.

Every week we were given a list of ingredients to bring along for the next week’s lesson,  to cook up the chosen recipe ourselves. Every week I would return home with the list, ever hopeful of a positive response but Sylvie’s replies were always the same; “You needn’t think I’m shelling out for that bleeding lot!” or, “They’re having bleeding laugh aren’t they, I could feed us all bloody week for what  that lot costs, tell them to get lost! Who the f**k do they think I am, bleeding Rockerfeller!”

Every week I would have to make up some excuse, “Sorry I forgot, or sorry, my mum forgot to go shopping, and sorry, I left my cookery bag at home.” Only on rare occasions when it was something simple like a rice pudding or and egg custard would Sylvie grudgingly agree,  and would I be able to pilfer the ingredients from the pantry at home.

At the first opportunity, when choosing our ‘O’ level options, I dropped the subject, with an enormous sense of relief. I used to watch the girls who continued the subject, turning up at school with their pretty little cooking baskets, ingredients weighed out in Tupperware tubs, cooking up that weeks’ dish with enormous concentration, struggling to get it right, knowing I could have done the same things easily with one hand tied behind my back.

A Distant Memory.

Distant

Wresting was a popular sport at the time, the late 1970’s. The days of Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki, tag team wrestling and Saturday afternoon bouts aired on TV. Late every Saturday afternoon we would pile onto the sofas in the living room to watch the latest bouts, shouting and cheering on our favourites and booing if they lost.

Having had a busy day one Saturday, washing, drying and clipping numerous dogs, Lily and I finished up and I made my way to the living room, where I could hear the familiar boos and cheers.

Flopping down in an armchair, already exhausted, Larry and Sylvie both turned to me. With a snarl, Larry said “What do you think you’re doing? Dinner won’t cook its f*****g self!” I just stared in disbelief. I had worked all day whilst the others did god knows what, and now ,whilst they sat there, I would have to cook dinner for them.

I desperately wanted to argue, but the look on Larry’s face warned me not to dare to open my mouth. I was given instructions what to cook, and heaving my tired body up out of the chair, I made my way to the kitchen.

Standing at the sink, peeling a large bowl full of potatoes, I sobbed, suddenly I felt as though I couldn’t go on, I felt as though it was all going to kill me. I was being eroded away, worn down, mentally and physically.

There was an overwhelming sense of darkness, weary, aching bones , loneliness, isolation and a complete and utter sadness. It never entered my head at that time, the fact that, at some point I would grow up, become an adult, be able to get out from it all. That eventually, this would all be a distant memory.

At that moment, I just thought that this was my life for ever and it felt as though I was in hell.

Clear my Plate.

Portion

Sylvie could make good meals out of very little and she could talk for hours about how she learned this from her mother.

The softer side of Sylvie would emerge at these times, and these talks with her was one of the things that seemed to lighten things, take the pressure off, if only for short time.

I always recall these times with a warm glow, the memories of them conjuring up a sense that it was a time of normality, everything was pleasant and I had a feeling of being loved and cared for.

It didn’t matter that the talks tended to happen when I’d been ordered to help with laborious task such as washing, cooking, gardening or cleaning. It helped lighten the load, made time pass quicker, and was a time when Sylvie would actually remain pleasant.

She would go into great detail about the wonderful meals her mother cooked for the family and how she had preserved fruit, made jams and stews and ensured they all well fed, despite not having much money.

Sylvie wasn’t an incredible cook but she taught me how to make good, wholesome meals and to make the most with the things you have. She could turn the cheapest cuts of meats into lovely tender and tasty meals and make delicious stews, bolstering them with lentils and pearl barley to make them more filling.

Meat was expensive and with so many of us in the house, portions of it needed to be small. However, our meals were always supplemented with extra vegetables, potatoes, bread or a Yorkshire pudding to make them more filling. Sometimes, she would make delicious rice puddings, egg custards and jam or treacle suet puddings, conjuring them up from things found in the fridge or larder.

Wasting food was something that could never be considered. The use of seasonal fruit and vegetables was the norm,  as was the use of leftovers for another meal.

Ingrained within me is an inability to waste food and an ability to make good meals with whatever is available.

To this day I find it almost impossible to leave food on my plate and need to polish it off, however full I am. This was bought about by years of being forced to clear my plate, with Sylvie hovering over me with the threat of ‘You’ll bloody well sit there until you’ve finished it!” followed up with, “or I’ll paste the bleeding living daylights out of you,” or “You’ll eat it cold for your f*****g breakfast!”

I don’t recall any of these threats actually happening, most likely because having the certain knowledge that she would carry them through, none of us would ever dare to take the risk.

Detonate Something Within Her.

Detonate

The dog grooming obviously provided a substantial portion of the income into the house and was essential to keep things going. Even though Bridget and I would be forced to help with the bathing and drying of the dogs, a lot of the work, and all of the the skill, was down to my second eldest sibling, Lily.

I don’t know that there was ever any proper arrangement regarding payment or wages of any kind, or whether Sylvie ever gave Lily any amounts of cash. Lily didn’t pay any board money, rightly so, given the amount of money bought in from the dog grooming.

Sylvie must have supplemented things in some ways, as Lily always had nice things. She dressed nicely, in fashionable clothes, had lovely shoes and handbags, and the latest expensive perfumes such as Dior, Rive Gauche and Chanel. I am guessing that these were a sort of ‘payment in kind.’

Apart from the short time working in a pet shop after leaving school, Lily had never really gone out to work and was quiet and shy, very much the opposite to Sylvie and her older sister Gina.

Sylvie always put Lily’s quieter ways down to her not getting a chance to speak when she was little. She said that Lily would not get the chance to open her mouth, as Gina always spoke for her. If Sylvie asked Lily if she wanted a biscuit, before she could open her mouth, Gina would pipe up, “Of course she does, what are you asking her for?” It was Gina who would declare, “Mum, Lily wants a drink,” or “Mum, Lily needs the toilet,” regardless of whether she did or not.

For a long time, working at home and grooming the dogs had suited her, saved her from having to go out to find work, hampered by her lack of confidence. Now in her early twenties and still at home grooming the dogs, Lily was immensely attractive and very slim with long brown hair.

At this point, there must have been something that ignited a spark, that was to detonate something within Lily. She had started working a few nights a week, in nightclubs in the town, working as a barmaid. It gave her some independence, her own money, some freedom, friends, and a social life.

From this time, Lily was to date a string of men of various ages and statuses, and so started to live something of her own life. Some of the men were single, some were married, many were ordinary and working class, others were very well off, driving expensive cars such as a Lotus or a Rolls Royce. Regardless, Lily always dressed up to meet them. I would sit and watch her preparing for her evenings out and be spellbound by the glamour of it all.

She would curl her long hair into the heated rollers everyone used at that time, and whilst these were setting her hair into soft curls, she would apply her make-up and put on her chosen outfit for the evening. She dressed tastefully in the latest fashions of the time and being so slim, she could carry off anything beautifully.

Once dressed, she would unpin the now cold rollers, and her long brown hair would tumble down in large, soft curls past her shoulders. After a quick spray or dab with one of her heavenly perfumes, she would be off, gliding out of the door until the early hours of the morning.

A Fading Impression.

Impression

Physically, the wounds of that day remained for weeks but the psychological impact,  the deep impression it left, has always remained and can never be erased. I had already lost respect for Larry, my step father, but this beating bought about something deeper. It changed something within me, and whilst beaten down in one respect, it triggered something, sowed the seeds of survival. There came a realization,  that this was how my life was, but I needed to live it and get through it all.

My head was heavy and ached for weeks, my scalp tender to touch and brushing my hair made me wince and yelp. I had bruises everywhere, especially my forearms, that had taken many of the blows intended for my head and body.  As it was the start of the summer holidays there wasn’t a need to keep me away from school until the bruising disappeared.

The bruises would eventually fade and the aches and pains would resolve, but I continued to shake inside, always nervous, with an anxiety that simmered within me for many years to come.

I would feel sick at the sight of Larry,  but would have to carry out his orders and instructions without question. It became preferable to retreat to the ‘dog room’ and help with grooming the dogs, or to the old back room and tackle a pile of ironing, than have to suffer the sight of him and the wave of nausea that would come over me with it.

Looking back, I can see that with my loss of any respect for Larry, there came something else. I still feared him and had to toe the line, but most of the time, in my head, I had almost disregarded him.

It was still necessary to carry out the numerous tasks and chores, and to suffer the usual physical and verbal punishments, often for little or no reason. However, my overriding memories or this times are of laughter and funny moments, spent with my siblings and, whenever possible, with friends, making the most of every chance to do something I wanted to do.

Even Sylvie’s rages and harsh treatments could often be overshadowed by her hilarious story telling, the mimicking of people, peppering her language with frequent swear words. She would have a saying for everything, commonly known terms, but she would put her own spin on them to apply them to her tales. To this day, I will often smile and chuckle to myself whenever I hear any of these terms, recalling her own unique ways of expressing them.

Larry’s impression on my life has always remained, but thankfully, at that time it was fading, other things were becoming more important, he was increasingly of little consequence, I could suffer whatever he wanted to throw at me.

I just got on with it all and enjoyed the good wherever I could.

Adrift and Alone.

Adrift

The importance of time with my friends cannot be underestimated. Meeting up with school mates after school or at weekends and holidays was not allowed for me. The journeys to school, time with my friends, during break and lunchtimes, was my only chance of any kind of social life, a time to mix with my peers.

Friends would often ask me to their houses, to meet up after school, go to the park, go swimming or into town, but I would always have to make up an excuse. To a few close friends I was able to admit the truth, telling them that I wasn’t allowed, but I would still feel embarrassed, feeling that it was somehow my own fault,  and I could see that they struggled to understand. Some of them even suggested that I just did what I wanted, “What can they do about it?” they would innocently ask, having no idea of the repercussions I would suffer if Sylvie or Larry knew I’d even thought about it.

Academically I was very able, I liked learning and could grasp subjects well, but chances to excel would be scuppered time and again and in several ways. The sheer amount of time absent from school resulted in a constant catch-up.  Any time I would be doing well at one or two subjects, and there were several times when this was the case, I would suddenly be kept away from school for days at a time.

I don’t think there was ever any deliberate intention to hinder my progress; it was just that my services were needed at home, to be roped into grooming dogs or caring for the ones we bred or boarded, or the mountain of household chores. I would return to school having missed several days lessons and would have to scramble to catch up.

Participating in after school activities was something I would have loved to have been able to do, particularly the sports clubs and being part of the sports teams. Athletics and netball, long jump, high jump, hockey and swimming were all things I loved.  I would look forward to PE lessons and would often being asked to join the athletics clubs, the netball team and such, to represent the school.  If these clubs ran at lunchtime it was OK , (as soon as I stayed for free school lunches), but anything after school or on weekends was out of the question.

Despite loving the sports and the games lessons,  they were always marred by the fact that no matter how well I did at any sport, I wouldn’t be able to represent the school at any level, and I couldn’t be part of the netball or hockey teams.  Watching the teams go off to compete with another school, and the match reports read in assembly the next day, with praise for the star players, would leave me feeling frustrated, angry that I hadn’t had the opportunity, that my chance to shine had been dulled once again.

More than that was the sense of it setting me apart from the people around me, the people I desperately wanted to be like, to fit in and not feel that I was always separate and alone.

And so, again, that cloak of isolation would repeatedly engulf me, leaving me totally adrift and alone.