Dolly F*****g Daydream!

Hospitality

I had first started staying with Sylvie and her family around mid-to late 1966. My adoption was handled as a private one, and although dealt with through the courts, it did require a social services report.  After I had been living with Sylvie for about ten months, a social worker visited on a few occasions, and a report was duly produced for the court, giving its recommendations  in regard to my future.

Sylvie resented this social services input, the visits to her home and the fact that she had to toe the line. With her greasy hair, baggy clothes and Jesus sandals, the social worker Jane was something of Hippie type. Sylvie always described Jane as “Dolly f*****g daydream! I never saw such a scruffy looking f****r in all my life!”

For the visits Sylvie had obviously schemed and worked her magic, displaying  great hospitality and creating the right impression.  The house was scrubbed and polished from top to bottom, the best china tea set making a rare appearance, and the home made cakes offered. Stan had been made to have a bath and to shave, ordered into a clean shirt and a tie, the kids into their Sundays best, with their hairs brushed and gleaming. All of them had been given stern warnings about what to say and how to behave.

Having been bathed and dressed in my finest, I was placed in the garden in the Silver Cross pram, to get some healthy fresh air, as was considered best at that time. However, this was the one time that Sylvie’s treasured pram was not to serve her as well as she had planned.

Jane had arrived, this time to finalise the report, and after offers of tea and cake and polite chat, she had requested to see me. Sylvie happily led her through the kitchen, but looking through the window to the pram at the bottom of the garden, she let out a scream, “Oh my god, where is she?” and flew out of the door and down the garden.

On reaching the pram she was able to see me plonked down in the bottom of the deep well of the pram, playing with my feet. “You little git!” she uttered. Whilst the social worker and Sylvie’s daughters had hesitated, surprised by Sylvie’s sudden flight down the garden, it took them a few moments to follow her.

By the time they had caught up with Sylvie and came into earshot, the words ‘you little git’ had magically transformed into a sweet “Oh you little angel, you gave me such a fright.”

The carriage body of the pram had a deep well, with boards that slotted over the cavity, to provide a base for the mattress. I somehow had been able to get my fingers under the boards and remove them, meaning that I dropped down into the well and out of sight. Along with the blankets, sheets and pillows, the boards were strewn on the lawn where I had discarded them, ruining the image that Sylvie had wanted to present of me beautifully bedecked in the lovely pram.

Jane had picked up the boards and questioned the safety of the pram. Reassuring Jane that she would get Stan to fix it, Sylvie turned her back to her and said through gritted teeth to the girls, “Could you please ask your father to look at the pram for me,” in the sweetest voice she was able to manage.

Quickly realising she needed to rescue the situation, Sylvie turned on the charm. Leading Jane back into the house she commented, “Jane you do look lovely today, is that a new skirt you’re wearing?”  whilst secretly grimacing at the bright orange, frayed hem and ankle length hippie type garment.

Jane had apparently lapped up this, and several other compliments, that Sylvie bestowed upon her. Sylvie found this hilarious and would often declare, “The dozy mare, she lapped it up. Nice skirt my arse! F**k me! I’ve seen better dressed scarecrows,” Or another favourite was, “I wouldn’t have used that bleeding skirt to wipe my arse!”

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A Final Belief.

Final

At RAF Alconbury, Pam ( my natural mother), was to meet Grant, a young US airman of the same age. Having fallen in love, it was not long before long Pam was pregnant and so they were making plans to marry. Soon after my birth, and with the evidence of the presence of another man, the relationship crumbled. Pam was left alone with little support and struggling to cope as a single mother.

Sylvie learned of Pam’s struggles, and despite already having four children of her own and an empty, disintegrating marriage, she offered to care for the baby for a while. The arrangement was to become a permanent one, leading to a private and somewhat strange adoption, involving deceit and untruths regarding the situation of my adoptive parents to be.

It was the start of a complicated and chaotic life, eventually within a family of eight children, and at many times various others in the house, including nephews, nieces, cousins and even lodgers. There was hard work, tears and abuse but also love, immense laughter and enduring relationships, that provide a rich tapestry of memories.

The eventual search for my natural family, and for answers to the thousands of questions stored up over the years,  has resulted in a combination of heartache and happiness, revelations and surprise, reunions and first meetings. It has answered some questions but raised many others.

Ultimately, it has provided me with a history, unbreakable blood ties, and importantly, a final belief that I am not purely defined by my status of ‘the adopted one’.

Mum; the person I know least.

Maze

Writing about the circumstances of my early life and my upbringing, has caused me to think long and hard about the maze of people involved, the memories of them and the stories I have been told.

It has struck me, with a great deal of sadness, the realization that the person I know the least of all about is my natural mother Pam. Due to the eight year age gap and very differing personalities, Bessie, her sister,  has told me as much as she can, but she and Pam were never close and did not mix in the same groups of friends.

Bessie left the UK for the USA when Pam was twenty and although she did make a few trips back to the UK, they did not see much of each other. The trips were often several years apart and other than writing letters and the occasional telephone call, communications systems were virtually non-existent compared to today.

Unfortunately, I never met Pam as she is no longer with us, having died in strange circumstances in 1980. There are very few photos of her, but of the ones I have, I am able to see that I look like her, taller and slimmer, big busted and fair haired. A prominent nose and a fondness for the odd gin and tonic I also inherited.

It seems that like her own mother, Pam was a quieter personality, and so am I. It is hard to know if this ‘nature or nurture’. Was I born that way, or is it a result of my upbringing?  Was it the constant suppression of any attempts to express an opinion, to defend an argument and the physical repercussions if I persisted?

Much of what I was told about Pam when I was growing up was, to say the least, unkind and uncomplimentary. Unfortunately it has to be said that a lot of the stories have turned out to contain some truth.

In my head I know these facts and have to face them, but they hurt tremendously. Deep within my heart I feel a need to almost speak for her, to justify her actions of that time and the circumstances involved.

Perhaps it is because she hasn’t been able to speak for herself, to tell me how she felt, or if she had regretted giving me up. Truthfully though, I think it is more of  a desire within me, to see my beginnings through rose tinted glasses and ignore some of the glaring truths.

Unfortunately,  her death robbed her of the chance to have her say, to put forward her side of the story or even to just to be able say ‘Sorry’.

My Pink, Plastic Pram.

Pink

 

Although crowded in the small house, life seemed settled for a couple of years. Larry worked as an HGV driver and this would take him away for days at a time.

I went along to a local nursery, skipping along to it every day with the boy from next door, sometimes wheeling my beloved little pink, moulded plastic pram, or racing along on my tiny scooter. The nursery was in a grand, big old stone house with an enormous garden and I loved going there.

All the children had their own peg to hang their coat and bags, and their own little towels. Above each peg would be a symbol, mine was a squirrel, and there would be the same corresponding symbol on your towel, your desk, your PE bag, even on the deck-chair type fold out beds and blankets, which we were made to snuggle into every afternoon for one hour.

Just before I reached the age of five another house move was made. With the benefit of hindsight, I have realised that the move was one of necessity. Given the age of Sylvie’s youngest daughter and the time of moving into this house, Sylvie was obviously pregnant again. Already cramped in the tiny house, it wasn’t going to be able to accommodate another child.

Still too young to really understand, I vaguely recall standing in a big room in a house, it seemed dark, with a very high ceiling and there was some rubbish on the floor, old screwed up newspapers and some rags. I also have a recollection of standing in the garden, looking back at the house, surrounded by weeds and grass as tall as I was then. I realise now that this must have been when we were taken to view the house. Soon a ‘mortgage’ of sorts was arranged with a local business man who owned the house. The move was made and this was to become our permanent home.

The house was immense, the size of the rooms and height of the ceilings meant that heating them was almost impossible. Waking up in the winter and finding frost on the inside of the windows was normal, as was seeing the warmth of your breath create a cloud as it hit the cold morning air.

There was no central heating and only gas fires in a few of the main rooms. A small gas bottled heater would be wheeled about the rooms and used to keep that area vaguely warm. We had several little paraffin heaters that would be lit and huddled around; These paraffin heaters were to become one of the banes of my life.

Needing to have their little tanks replenished with paraffin every day, I was the one usually given the job of taking two plastic one gallon cans along to the petrol station where paraffin was sold and carting it back home. There was a small station only about 100 yards away, but often they would not have a supply, and it would mean a trek of about half a mile to the next larger petrol station. Half a mile doesn’t seem far but for someone of about seven years old, carrying two 1 gallon cans, one weighing down each arm, it was always an arduous task.

No matter how hard I tried, I would always end up with some of the liquid spilt on me, only a tiny amount, a few drops, or the can would rub on my clothes, but it was enough to result in me carrying around the foul paraffin smell about me all day.

He didn’t Pursue me

Pursue

Thinking it was the end of the matter, I started to make my way back to the house when Larry appeared with a cane in his hand. He had obviously arrived home from work and Sylvie, still in a rage, must have told him what had gone on. I could see from the look on his face that he wasn’t happy.

As he approached me he snarled, “So you think you’d got off lightly did you?”, grabbed my arm and, whirling me around,  proceeded to whip the cane down onto the backs of my legs four or five times. I screamed out and managed to break free, running away to the house. He didn’t pursue me and seemed satisfied with what he’d done.

That night, the lashing on the backs of my legs appeared as raised wheals in horizontal stripes across the back of my thighs and upper calves. Over the next few days they developed into deep, dark bruises and it was obvious to anyone looking at them how they had been caused. Fearing them being seen at school, I was kept at home for about ten days until they had almost faded completely.

I still had it drummed into me that it was my own fault, that I had deserved it, and made fearful of the repercussions if I told anyone. I returned to school and, for the one and only time, Sylvie was forced to write me a note to explain my absence.

According to the note,  I had unfortunately been absent from school due to a particularly severe bout of tonsillitis!

‘A kick in the Goolies twice over!’

Temporary

My time in the Care System was temporary.

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, time to be a child, to play and the freedom to speak and say what I thought. Not having to spend my days working away in the house, grooming dogs, fearing verbal and physical lashings. This time had given me a glimpse of ‘normality’ and a little bit of what life should be like.

When Sylvie and Larry did eventually arrive to take me home, I think that in my naive, 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. I wasn’t given any explanation why I had been kept away for so long and it wasn’t spoken about. Given the way anything and everything else was always brought up, I suspect that there could possibly some feelings of guilt on Sylvie and Larry’s part.

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.

Another set of neighbours, a couple who were foster parents, also came along.  They had talked about their latest foster children, a brother and sister, and although they didn’t go into detail, they spoke, in derogatory manner, of them coming from a poor housing area and living in a family with ‘difficult circumstances.’ They seemed quite pompous and spoke with an air of smugness at it being so satisfying for them, glad to be able to ‘take the children away from it all for a while’.

The host of the dinner party was quite an opinionated, 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, 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!’

His Bitterness placed me in Danger.

Bitter

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. Larry and Sylvie had two children together; Sally, being the apple of his eye, was never a target and he wouldn’t have dared direct any anger towards the youngest – Lizzie, who was 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 because Larry was aware of the love affair Sylvie had many years before with the American airman and that my American association caused resentment by Larry. To an extent this was born out by the frequent comments he would make such as, “You adopted little American b*****d, shame you can’t f**k off back there!”

Given what I was to learn later in life, I can only assume that it was his bitterness towards me that led to his ultimatum that I should go.

……….When my time in foster care ended,  the social workers visited and the next thing I knew I arrived at another children’s home. This time it was a local authority children’s home.

Years later I discovered that 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 timeframe of my stay there.

Appallingly, 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 been at risk of becoming one of his victims,  is something that sends shivers through me and causes a deep and bitter 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.