Seperated from my Peers.

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School was always something I loved; right from the first day I had skipped along to nursery school until the day I finished college. For obvious reasons it became a refuge from home life, a place where I could escape it all.

More than that though, I liked learning, I was generally popular, with both teachers and pupils, and had I had several good friends. However, my love of school was marred by the knock on effects of my home life and my forced absences, meaning that chances to excel in any way were often scuppered.

As far back as junior school, I was never allowed to go on any school trips. I would always bring home the letters dished out by the teachers, detailing the days away, the activities to be enjoyed, and the payments needed. Every time I would hand them to Sylvie with a cautious hopefulness, that this time, just this once, she might let me go. She would never allow me the money for the trips, always  justifying it by informing me that, “ I certainly didn’t f*****g deserve it!”  or that it was a punishment for my bad behaviour.

Along with the sickly kids, the ones with asthma, bronchitis or weak constitutions, whose paranoid parents dare not allow their precious off-spring  to participate in any outward bound activities, I would have to remain at school.

The days, and on one occasion, a whole week, would be spent sitting in the classroom, usually two or three of us, bored as there were no formal lessons, and so reading, colouring and painting, only able to imagine the fun and activities enjoyed by our classmates.

Still, it was still preferable to being at home, away from the gruelling hard work and constant abuse. Even though, once again, I was isolated, made to feel different, that I didn’t fit in. Once more separated from my peers.

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Returning Home.

 

After a few months in the children’s home, I was outside playing when one of the staff came to me and said, “There’s someone here to see you.” I had watched other children having visitors, parents and siblings, aunts and uncles, but it was the first time anyone had come to visit me. I was led into a playroom, off from the tv lounge and there sat Sylvie’s eldest daughter, Gina.

She smiled broadly and gave me a hug but I didn’t know what to say. She had left home when I was only two, and having three children of her own and had been busy taking care of them. Consequently we hadn’t been terribly close.

It would transpire that she hadn’t known about my being in care, having been fobbed off with “Oh, she’s at school,” or “She’s in town with Lily.” Gina had only found out when Sylvie could no longer hide the truth and had to tell her where I was. Gina had gone mad and insisted that I be bought home, stating that if Sylvie didn’t want me she would take me home herself.

A few days later I was to receive my second visitors. Sylvie and Larry had arrived and were waiting in the dining room for me, ready to take me home. I have to admit that the news that I was going home did not fill me with dread or horror. I think that in my naïve, young mind I imagined that life was going to continue in the way it had the past few months, that this is how life was now. It just seemed normal to me that my family would have missed me and would be glad to have me home.

There was no ceremony to my return home, it was a though I’d never been away. There was no indication that I’d been missed or that they were happy to see me. Within days the old regime was restored and it was sinking in that I had returned to exactly the same situation I had left several months before.

In recent times I have had reason to recall my feelings after my return home.  A few years ago, when we moved to the country, my husband and I were invited by our new neighbours to a dinner party, along with another set of neighbours, a couple who were foster parents.

They had talked about their latest foster children, a brother and sister, and although they didn’t go into detail, they spoke of them coming from a poor housing area and living in a family with ‘difficult circumstances.’ They  were a pompous couple and spoke with an air of smugness that they could  ‘take the children away from it all and show them how decent people live- if only for a short time.’

The host of the dinner party was quite an opinionated and straight talking man and immediately exclaimed, “Well it’s all well and good for you, but as I see it, it’s like getting a kick in the goolies twice over!”

“You get the first kick from living a shit life.  Then you get taken away to a big house in the country, with horses and big four wheel drive cars and going to the nice little village school. Then just when you’ve been given a taste of the nicer things in life, you have to go back to your old life and things must seem worse than ever. Like I said, like getting kicked in the goolies twice over!”

Everyone else present had seemed stunned by his opinion but it was to strike a chord deep within me. It perfectly summed up my feelings soon after my return home. Having gone from the hard work, physical and mental abuse, I had been shown a different side of life, kindness and freedom and privileges.

Then to have it all taken away again and be returned to my previous life, I could agree entirely;

‘It was like being kicked in the goolies twice over!’

‘Normality’ – my time in care.

 

My time with foster  parents came to an end. Again the social workers visited and the next thing I knew, I had arrived  at another children’s home. This time it was a council run home,  and this was one of the homes where the infamous Frank Beck was officer-in-charge.

I never recall meeting him and cannot be sure if he was actually working there during my time, but he was employed to run this and other homes from 1973 to 1986,which fits with the time-frame of my stay there.  Beck went on to be convicted and sentenced to five life terms for physical and sexual assaults against more than one hundred children in his care. A further twenty four years for seventeen charges of abuse, including rape, at his trial in 1991.

The fact that I could well have been there at that home during his time and potentially, I could have be at risk of becoming one of his victims is something that sends shivers through me and causes a deep resentment and anger towards Larry, that he may have, albeit unknowingly, placed me at such risk. Sylvie too, for having gone along with his wishes and not protecting me.

Like the holiday children’s home and my time with foster parents, my time at the home was to seem like a great holiday.

The main house was grand and imposing, of brown brick and had a large wood paneled hall with a heavy wooded staircase. An extension extended out from a living room and this was used mainly as a tv area. I recall sitting in there and watching ‘Top of the Pops’ and Suzi Quatro, leather clad and singing ‘Devil Gate Drive.’

I slept in a separate small building from the main house, a more modern building. I was in a large room upstairs and there were four beds in there. Each of us had a small chest of draws with a small hanging space attached. We were expected to make ours beds and keep the room tidy but that was about it. There were four of us girls of varying ages and these would come and go,  as one went home or elsewhere, to be replaced by another. The care staff would sleep in their own room on the same floor.

Meals were eaten in another extension to the main house, a large dining room, with a wide serving hatch type opening through to the kitchen, from where meals where handed out. We were expected to clear the tables after meals, placing used plates and dishes back onto the serving area.

I must have been there for at least part of the summer as I recall playing on the swings in the late warm evenings with girls my own age. There was a purpose built classroom along one side of the garden and children of various junior school age where taught here.

Once again, I was allowed pocket money and we were taken in groups into town and to the market to spend our money on sweets, trinkets, records or anything else we wished, something I had never experienced at home. We were taken swimming, treated to hot chocolate afterwards and traveled back to the home on the top of a double-decker bus chatting and joking.

During my time in the homes and foster care, I felt wonderfully lucky to be allowed what I thought to be great privileges, pocket money, sweets, and the freedom to speak and say what I thought. Not having to spend my days working away in the house, grooming dogs, fearing tongue lashings and head slaps. This time had given me a glimpse of ‘normality’ and a little bit of what life should be like.

Money would Ooze from their Wallets.

Ooze

The couple who ran the children’s home were quiet, kind and patient and always had time to talk, explain and help me with anything. Whether or not they asked me about my home situation I cannot remember, but they must have been curious.

I wasn’t expected to do anything in the way of work or chores and was allowed the freedom to play in the gardens and even to wander into the sand dunes, so long as I didn’t go far. They had a little terrier type dog called Sandy who loved my attention and would follow along at my heels as I ran through the grasses of the sand dunes.

Although I was there a few months, I find it hard to recall much happening there. Unlike life at home, things were peaceful and calm; I would read books, watch tv, and do drawing and colouring.

The couple, Tommy and Edna,would busy themselves getting prepared for the influx of children in the summer. Tommy would do bits of maintenance or decorating and gardening. Edna would clean and cook and liked to knit.

On one occasion there was a charity evening to raise money for the home and the large meeting hall was filled with people dressed in their finest. Edna had been cooking for days prior to this, little appetisers and nibbles to accompany the bottles of wine and spirits, aimed at relaxing the guests so that donations of money would ooze from their wallets.

My time in the children’s holiday home came to an end after a few months. Two social workers came to visit and within a few days I was packed up and taken back to my home town.  Not to my home but to be placed with foster parents.

I was taken to a house only about ten minutes’ walk from my home and introduced to a couple, a husband and wife, Steve and Sharon.  I would guess that they were aged about thirtyish but seemed very young in comparison to Tommy and Edna.

They lived in small neat and warm semi-detached house and had no children. I was too young to really think about it at the time but maybe they fostered because they were unable to have children of their own. I was only to remain there for two weeks but I remember the time fondly.

Again things were calm and quiet and Steve and Sharon took the time to talk to me, interested in anything I had to say. I was given pocket money for the first time in my life. I remember being in the post office with Steve where he encouraged me to spend my money. Looking at a box of Maltesers , I realised I had enough money to buy them. Never in my life previously had I been able to be so indulgent and I looked to Steve for approval. He laughed saying, “It’s your money, you get what you like”.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

It was Steve who taught me how to do crosswords and praised me heavily for the way I had picked it up so quickly. Sharon would wash and iron my clothes and put them in a little pile on my bed, the only thing required of me was to put them away in the drawers.

A Solitary Child.

Solitary

It seems ironic that after Sylvie’s and Larry words about how lucky I was, that I would end up staying at the children’s’  holiday home for several months. How they arranged for me to stay there, just after Christmas, I’ll never know,  as children only stayed there over the summer months. Did they know somebody associated with the home, was there any social services involvement? These are questions I never dared to ask and they were never spoken about.

At the time, the home was run by an older couple, I am guessing in their late fifties. Their married daughter, her husband and two daughters, similar in age to me, had been staying for Christmas. They were to stay for about another week, and I recall running the length of the long dormitory bedrooms and playing in the gardens and on the sand dunes with them. It was the days of the Osmonds and David Cassidy and I recall us all being love struck, singing along together to their songs and belting out ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’ at the top of our voices.

After the week was up, the grandchildren went home and I was left, a solitary child, rattling about the big building with the older couple. The bedroom dormitory was too big for me to sleep on my own in there and so my bedroom was the sick bay, a normal sized room with two single beds.

I was still there after a few weeks, but again I don’t know what arrangements were made in regard to me staying there. I don’t know if Sylvie had been in touch or what attempts were made to contact her or Larry.

The few clothes that I had arrived in needed supplementing, and so the pile of spare clothes, stored for use in a big cupboard,  was searched for something appropriate. Several suitable outfits were found and among them one immediately became my favourite; a purple polyester type material with bell bottomed trousers , a long sleeved top with a flared bottom, and turquoise laced edging to the hems, neck and sleeves. So much so was it my favourite that, in my head, when I recall my time there, I am always wearing this little outfit. There must have been other clothes as I couldn’t possibly have worn it every day for the several months I was there.

Sent Away, – including previous post ‘The space under the Stairs.’

Larry was a bully,  he liked to be in control and could use his physical size to get his own way, as well as psychologically terrifying me.

Under the stairs in the house was small cellar type space that went down some stone steps to a small, thin room. At the end of this area was a hole in the wall that went only a small way under the house. This space was used to store food cans and other bits and bobs and it was cold and dark.

There was a light in there but the switch was on the outside of the door. A punishment Larry frequently used was to shove me in there, kicking and screaming, lock the door and switch off the light.

It was probably the punishment I dreaded the most and I would much rather have endured a physical beating than be placed in that dark, cold room, with a gaping black hole, from which I was convinced that all sorts of monsters and ghosts would emerge and tear me limb from limb.

No matter how many times it happened it was a fear I was never able to conquer and I would sob, weep and scream to be let out but to no avail. When eventually I would be freed, often after several hours, I would be reminded “That’s what you get when you think you can do what you like, you stupid bleeding Yank!”

Larry and Sylvie would continue to argue, the financial stress and upkeep of the house increased, six children and mounting tension meant something had to give.

The day after Boxing Day, when I was aged about eight, I was told I was going away for a couple of weeks. I don’t remember the words said but I was made to understand that it was because of my behaviour, that I was causing too much trouble for everyone.

I have the overriding memory of it being a punishment but didn’t know what I had done. Years later I was to discover that Larry had given Sylvie an ultimatum, either I went or he did. I don’t know why it came to this: surely I couldn’t have been that badly behaved or troublesome?

I was put in the car, we traveled for a couple of hours and arrived at the Children’s Holiday Home,

I knew of the holiday home as we had often had day trips to the coast there, all piling into the car in the days before seat belts were the law,  and there would be four or five of us in the back. We would set off in the early hours of the morning when it was still dark, arriving there early to make the most of the day.

It seemed as though the weather was always good on these outings and we would spend a long day on the beach, returning home late into the night, tired and sun-kissed. We even had the odd short holidays there, staying in the small chalets or a caravan on a few occasions.

We would walk to the beach and the sand dunes close to where the home was located and would often see the children staying at the home. They would be in large groups, with group leaders,  playing games or walking along in a like snake like pattern.

Sylvie and Larry liked to point them out to me and remind me how lucky I was, that I didn’t need to go to the children’s home for my holiday.

In my young head, it seemed to me, that far from being unfortunate, they were having a whale of a time, laughing and playing along, chatting and singing songs. I was too young to consider any of the circumstances they may have left at home and would have to return to.

Obvious differences.

Glaring

By the age of eight or nine, the differences in the way I was considered and the way I was treated, was glaringly obvious.

Sylvie and Larry’s eldest child, Sally, took after her father, tall and dark and had striking looks. She was beautiful,  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 favorite 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 favorites. I cannot truthfully say that I was always innocent of whatever misdemeanor, 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.

By the time I was about eight Larry seemed to be around a lot more as there was less work available. This created more friction between him and Sylvie and loud arguments were a daily occurrence.

Sylvie’s older children were now of an age where he couldn’t really get away with too much bullying and aggression towards them. Sally, being the apple of his eye, was never a target and he wouldn’t have dared direct any anger towards Lizzie, Sylvie’s little darling.

Consequently, I bore the brunt of the blame for anything, his anger, his rages, his aggression and vitriolic words. On rare occasions Sylvie would actually stand up for me but this would cause further arguments between them and even further resentment towards me from Larry. Lily would often try to shield me, not physically but she would try to deflect situations or warn me about things in advance.

On one occasion I heard Sylvie and Lily talking when Lily questioned why Larry treated me the way he did. She explained that it was probably because Larry was aware of the love affair Sylvie had had many years before with the American airman. My American association caused resentment within Larry.

To an extent this was born out by the frequent comments he would make such as, “You adopted little American bastard, shame you can’t f**k off back there.”