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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Knackered – What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Knackered

Knackered; the perfect way to describe the way I felt through much of  my upbringing and reminds of a previous posting.

At times during my upbringing it was all too overwhelming; the constancy of the hard work, slogging day after day, washing, cooking, cleaning, ironing, grooming dogs, caring for the dogs we bred or who boarded with us, the harsh words, the physical punishments and the isolation, relentlessly from the age of about seven or eight.

Many times  it would engulf and overwhelm me and I would think that I could not survive.

How I survived it all, physically and mentally, I cannot explain. I would like to recall some dramatic event or ‘eureka moment’ that changed things,  a bolt of lightening, some sort of epiphany or a fairy god mother, but I can’t recall any such one event or flash of inspiration.

Looking back at how I came through it all, I grew up to be capable and resourceful with never a thought of allowing history to repeat itself. It has never been a conscious thought not to allow it to happen to my children, it just never has and never will.

I can only believe that ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

Blanket -‘Happiness is egg shaped.’

Blanket

Sylvie loved to relate the story of my arrival into her home to anyone with ears and I like to think that it did arouse some maternal instinct in her. However, it was often used as a way of reminding me of my beginnings and how fortunate but ungrateful I was that she had rescued me.

I was around nine months old at this time, and the attire I was said to have arrived in has been described to me in great detail on many occasions. I was dressed in an old, dirty, tight fitting, yellow cardigan, the wool matted together.  My nappy was described as badly stained and hanging off of me, heavy with acrid, smelly urine.

There was little else other than the blanket I was wrapped in, “The only decent bleeding thing you had,” Sylvie would often sneer, “And she soon took that f****r as she said she wanted a reminder of you. Reminder, my arse!” Apparently there was little else in the way of clothes, nappies or toys, “Little and f**k all!” was Sylvie’s comment “And what there was went straight in the f*****g bin!”

I was promptly stripped, scrubbed and dressed in hastily borrowed clothes, from neighbors and friends who had no doubt been regaled with stories of the dismal state of my arrival. I was then plonked in the immaculate Silver Cross pram, stored away since used for Sylvie’s fourth child, and wheeled along the street for Sylvie to be admired for her wonderful deed and kind heart.  Whilst I’m sure some elements of my condition are true, I am also aware that there has been some embellishment over the years in order to blacken Pam but place Sylvie in a shining light.

“An ugly little bleeder,” was how I was described; Fat and bald. Not chubby or chunky, big or pleasantly plump but without a doubt, quite simply ‘fat and bald’. It seems quite so much so that the family would rub my bald, shiny head and declare ‘Happiness is Egg-shaped.’  This slogan, among others such as ‘Eggs are Cheap,’ ‘Eggs are Easy,’ and ‘Go to Work on an Egg,’ was used by the Egg Marketing Board in the late 1960’s to promote eggs and the slogans became popularized through advertising campaigns. It obviously became a source of amusement for the family to apply this likeness to me and I’m told that I would chuckle along every time they rubbed my head.

How I came to be fat could be said to be somewhat of a mystery given my apparent diet prior to living with Sylvie. On asking what it was I liked to eat, Pam had flippantly replied, “Oh, she loves Fag Ash and Baked Beans!”  This reply would come to haunt me for many years to come and was repeated to me whenever I did something wrong to remind me how ungrateful I was to have been saved from a lifetime diet of ‘fag ash and baked beans.’

Roots; Is that the One she Adopted?

Roots

For much of my life I was defined by the circumstances of my birth. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always known that I was adopted and it defined me, in both the ways I have regarded myself and in the way other people considered me.

I don’t remember being told I was adopted so I am guessing I must have been very young. Growing up I was told a story several times about why the need to explain it to me had arisen, I had heard something said that had caused me to question its meaning.

The story goes that an aunt of my adopted mother had called to visit, not having seen the family for some time. After initial greetings she had looked at me and said, “Oh is that the one you adopted?” which caused me to ask the question, “What does adopted mean?”,  resulting in the need for hasty  explanations.

I have no recall of this happening and whilst it is possible that it is true, I have reason to question it. In the context of my upbringing it seems too innocent and naive and almost as though it was created in order to erase the truthful events of its disclosure. An overriding feeling  and  possibly a deeply held subconscious memory, it is more likely that the facts were hurled at me during one of many vitriolic rages and verbal attacks, as were many other details of the circumstance of my beginnings.

I was, however, to hear a similar sentence once again many years later at the age of thirty at my adopted mother’s funeral. Her sister whom we had not seen for many years attended the funeral and the wake afterwards. There was chatting for a while and then, when she thought me to be out of earshot, she asked, “Is that the one she adopted?”

Already reeling with the shock and grief of my mother’s sudden and unexpected death, these words were to hit me like a clap of thunder, transporting me in an instant back to my roots.

Despite having spent the previous week together with the family, organizing the funeral, drinking numerous cups of tea, crying, laughing and talking about my mother and her life, I already had a sense that the person who had tied us all together was now gone and that the family, as we knew it, was likely to drift apart. These words served as another reminder of what separated me from the rest of the family and isolated me from their blood ties. They once again defined me and the way people regarded me, and I was acutely aware that, for many people, I was viewed as and I would always be ‘the adopted one’.

The Zip on the tight white jeans.

Zip

The Daily Prompt today made me laugh inside;  ‘Zip’- it immediately bought back a lovely memory from growing up and made me happy to be able to relate, for a change, one of the many good and funny memories that has bound me together with my adopted sisters. It is something we still laugh about to this day.

Now in her early twenties and still at home grooming the dogs, Lily was very attractive, very slim with long brown hair. She had started working a few nights a week in nightclubs in town, working as a barmaid. It gave her some independence, her own money, some freedom 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 a flashy car, a Lotus or a Rolls Royce. Regardless, Lily always dressed up to meet them and 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 heated 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 and out the door until the early hours of the morning.

White, skin tight trousers was one of the fashions of the time and Lily was no exception in needing to have a pair. The tighter the better was obviously a requirement and despite being extremely slender, Lily had bought a pair that took extreme effort to get into. Having peeled them up her legs and by jumping, wriggling and pulling, she had managed to get them up and over her slender hips and bottom. At this point she was unable to pull the fronts together enough to zip up the fly. Try as she might she just could not do it and eventually Bridget and I were called upon to help.

She was due to be picked up by her latest chap in about five minutes and so quick thinking was called for. She was already laid on the bed trying and trying to pull up the zip whilst we pulled each side into the middle of her non-existent belly. She just couldn’t get a grip on the zip and it kept slipping out of her fingers.

Realizing that we needed something to pull it up; – with me pulling one side inwards and Bridget the other, Lily was finally able get  the zip to fasten by pulling up on an old metal coat hanger threaded through the hole in the pull tab. By now we were almost hysterical with laughter and had to hold Lily by the hands and haul her off the bed as it was almost impossible for her to bend in the middle.

Her latest conquest, picking her up that night, was obviously one of the better off blokes she dated and he arrived in a gleaming low bodied Lotus car. A look of horror spread across Lily’s face as she tottered along stiffly out of the house in her skin tight trousers and high heels. She looked at the car and realized that it wasn’t going to be easy to get into it.

We watched from the windows, desperately trying to stifle our laughs as Lily tried desperately to lower herself into the vehicle, having to limbo down, hanging on with one arm desperately to car roof with one hand and trying to pull herself across into the low seat with the other. She eventually made it and they drove off, leaving us splitting our sides with laughter and mimicking the scene over and over.

Lily was to also cry with laughter the next day when telling us that she had struggled just as much getting out of the car and even more so when she attempted to climb up onto a high bar stool and had nearly gone flying off in her attempt.

None this deterred her from wearing the skin tight white jeans and they were to have many more outings, unlike the fella with the Lotus.

Words – Like a Spike Through my Heart.

Spike

In the midst of a rage one day, with his large hand at my throat, pinning me against a wall, it wasn’t the physical blows that provided a lasting hurt, but the words he was to spit at me. It seems a silly insult, a playground type jibe, something to brush off. Coming from the man I thought of as Dad, it hurt deeply, the man who should protect you, keep you from harm and insults, and see you as beautiful no matter your looks.

I have no clue what had started the whole incident but there I was, pinned by Larry’s hand, held by my throat against the wall. He had his face close to mine and was raging at me. He was to end the rage with, “You fucking ugly, big-nosed b*****d!”, and walked away.

He may as well have hit me in the face with a sledge hammer or put a spike through my heart; such was the force with which those words hit me. At that moment, I felt as though something within me died. In the light of other things that had been said to me it seems so trivial and childish, but to me they were devastating. Already becoming conscious of my prominent nose, there had been a couple of comments such as ‘Concord’ and ‘Pinocchio’ at school to confirm this. However, to have my supposed father use the words he did, cemented in my mind the fact that I was ‘a fucking ugly big nosed b*****d.’

I think that it was from this point that I started to see Larry in different light. The fact that he had used such a childish remark to insult me somehow changed my view of him. I had lost any respect for him and started to see him for the weak and selfish person he was. I no longer expected or wanted anything from him. He was, however, still large and feared and I still had to toe the line or suffer the consequences.

His words had a lasting effect on me. I certainly wasn’t unattractive and looking back, although my nose was large but not excessively so, I instantly became incredibly conscious of it. I would cover my face with my hand when talking to people as I felt that this was when they would notice it, especially if I smiled or laughed. I avoided photographs and would walk with my head forwards so that my hair would hang down like curtains at the sides of my face and screen the offending protrusion. These actions would become habit and persisted for many years, along with the effects on my confidence and self-esteem.

Chuckle – ‘living over the brush.’

Chuckle

A couple of years after moving into the house, Sylvia and Larry were married. I was only about seven but I recall conversations about Stan and I have the feeling he had held up Sylvie’s divorce. I don’t know if he had actively opposed it or whether he simply didn’t bother to respond to solicitor’s letters or any attempts to get it sorted. It was the early seventies and divorce was still a lot less straight forward than today. I do know that Stan wasn’t seen by us for many years. Sylvie would remind us many times that Stan, “Never paid a bleeding penny of maintenance!” All of us had already been given Larry’s surname right from the start. It was the family name we all became known by and were all to use.

“Living over the brush” – a term that Sylvie always used and would always make me chuckle inside, it sounded such a silly phrase.  Being unmarried with children was something Sylvie obviously wasn’t happy with and as soon as the divorce was finalised, she and Larry made the necessary arrangements. It seems hard to believe in this day and age but at the time Sylvie was obviously conscious of not being married to Larry and this fact was kept from their two children, Sally and Lizzie, at the time.

The marriage took place at the Registry Office in the town and Sylvie made a big deal about her outfit, spending a lot of money on a beautifully made suit and matching hat. Lily attended with her then boyfriend, I’m not sure about Gina or Bridget and I know I didn’t go; I stayed at home with a neighbour to greet people when they returned to the house for the party afterwards. Sally and Lizzie knew nothing about the wedding and went to school as normal, only to be collected by Lily and her boyfriend and bought back to the party later. They were only young and so I don’t know if they were told about the wedding or if they just thought it was a party and a house full of people.

The house was full of people everywhere and there were mountains of food and copious amounts of alcohol. Everyone seemed to have a good time, the celebrations went on late into the night and Sylvie and Larry seemed happy to be married.

Sylvie and Larry’s eldest child, Sally, took after her father, tall and dark and had striking looks. She was extremely pretty with a head of long dark ringlets, deep brown eyes and long lashes. Larry doted on her and, in his eyes, she could do no wrong. Their last daughter, Lizzie, was more similar to Sylvie, smaller in height, fair haired and paler eyes. In the same way Larry doted on Sally, Lizzie was always Sylvie’s ‘golden child,’ not only between the two children that she and Larry had together but among all of her children.

Each would stand up for their favourite and apportion blame elsewhere when the child did something wrong, resulting in disputes between them. I would often become the target of blame; it was easy to shift the wrong doing my way and deflect it from either of their favourites. I cannot truthfully say that I was always innocent of whatever misdemeanour, but I was no more often guilty than any other normal child would be.

Life was becoming harder. As well as being the target of blame much of the time, especially from Larry, the dog grooming business was increasing and I was often kept at home to help. We were all allotted certain jobs in the house but increasingly these seemed to become my responsibility. However much I would try to object or reason that it wasn’t fair, I would be quietened, told to shut my mouth and that from now on, whatever it was, it was my job. If I objected further, I would suffer the physical repercussions.

Childhood Lost; including previous post – An Ice Cold Bath.

Cranky

It was during the early days of the dog grooming business that I was to endure what I remember as one of the earliest venomous attacks that would occur over the next several years.

Whenever Sylvie or Larry were having their frequent cranky moods, there had always been shouting, swearing and a wallop around the head or a slap on the face for all the kids, apart from the youngest two, who were Larry’s daughters.

I already knew I was adopted but do not recall the circumstances of being told, but it was something spoken about freely and easily with the stories of my beginnings regaled in great detail many times, unkindly and with no regard for my feelings.

I am guessing I was about six or seven, it was a hot summer’s day and Sylvie and Lily were in the upstairs bathroom bathing a dog. Sally, who would have been about four years old and me were in the garden in a little inflatable paddling pool. We had decided that we wanted more water in the pool and so I had gone into the old stone kitchen and filled a large jug with water from the tap.

Walking back, I could see Sally sat in the pool with her back to me, engrossed in a toy she was playing with. Innocently wanting to have some fun, play a trick and make her jump, I quietly crept up and quickly poured the water onto her back. Shocked, she screamed out at the top of her lungs, causing Sylvie and Lily to come racing down the stairs into the garden.

Sally continued to scream between sobs and gulps of breath, pointing at me. Sylvie took one look at me with the jug in my hand and with the realisation that I had done something, she slapped the side of my head and took me clean off my feet. Shocked and stunned I stood up to see Sylvie and Lily wrapping Sally in a towel and checking her back. “She f*****g well poured hot water all over her,” Sylvie was screeching, “She could have killed her!”

What the temperature of the water was I could not tell you, I had just filled the jug wanting more water in the pool. I suspect that Sally’s fright and scream were, more likely, due to the water being freezing cold, I certainly never saw any marks on her back.

Whatever the truth, I had certainly not acted with any malicious intent, just a spur of the moment action, meant for fun. I wasn’t given the chance to explain anything but grabbed by Sylvie by my arm and propelled up the stairs with a whack on the back of my head at each chance she got.

She pulled me into the bathroom and ordered me to take my clothes off. The dog they had been bathing was laid on a pile of towels in the corner and Lily came in and removed it saying “Sally’s OK Mum,” trying to calm her and possibly ease things for me.

Sylvie proceeded to put the plug into the bath and turned on the tap, the COLD tap only, snarling, ”So you want to see how it feels do you?” I was ordered to get onto the bath and gingerly stepped in with the cold water swirling around my feet and terrified of what would happen next.

I dare not look up or make any objections but heard Sylvie scream at me to sit down in the bath. I lowered myself down into the rising, freezing cold water. However, my overriding memory is not the icy cold numbness but it is Sylvie’s words that will ring in my ears forever.  She pulled up a blanket box, used to store bath towels and sat on it next to the bath.

“You adopted little bastard! That’s all the thanks that I get for everything I’ve done for you. It’s no wonder your f*****g mother didn’t want you, that’s why she couldn’t be bothered to feed you, too busy f*****g around with other blokes. Do you think she’d ever have bothered about you? F**k all on your back when you came to us and this is all the thanks we get. Then you go and behave like that, trying to kill your sister. You evil little b*****d!”

I tried to object and explain but the instant my mouth opened it was swiftly closed with a slap. At this point I started to cry, still dazed and mystified as to what had happened. I was ordered out of the bath and sent to bed, even though it was only early afternoon, where I remained without food or drink until the next morning.

The whole episode didn’t last long and Sylvie didn’t leave me in the bath for more than a few minutes, but the whole incident was to set a pattern and was to become the start of my realisation that I really wasn’t thought of in the same way the other children were, something separated me and set me apart.

I feel that it was at this point, my childhood was lost.