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.

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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.”

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.

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.

“Work wonders and S**t cucumbers!”

Descend

It seems that Sylvie and Larry had always had a somewhat tempestuous relationship. They had always argued, shouted and swore at each other. Then eventually, they would make up, they would go off on holiday together and then things would seem OK for a while.

Gradually, it seemed to worsen and they appeared resentful of each other, they argued more, wouldn’t speak to each other, and tension constantly hung in the air. Sylvie would talk disparagingly about Larry, openly using terms such as, “He’s a fat, lazy B*****d!”, often when he was within earshot.

For a long time Larry didn’t work due to his arthritis and his sickness benefit didn’t amount to much. This obviously impacted on the upkeep of the home. “He’s about as much use as a chocolate f*****g teapot, ” would commonly be heard whenever Sylvie was annoyed or had a another bill to pay.

Larry would occasionally attempt some sort of DIY,  but invariably, it didn’t get completed or would even make things worse. Time and time again I can recall Sylvie’s shouting and swearing, adding “F*****g typical of him, going to ‘work wonders and shit bleeding cucumbers’, he reckoned. Look at the bleeding mess he’s left again; worse that when he f*****g well started!

As tense as things were at these times, Sylvie’s many phrases and the way they just spilled out of her, would always have us all laughing. However angry Sylvie was, she would delight in our amused responses, continuing to swear and come out with more of her sayings, laughing to herself along the way.

Over time, and so slowly I didn’t notice it then, things were changing. Looking back, it seems that things were slowly winding down within the house. Sylvie’s son Christian and his friend, the lodger, were long gone, and Lily, who was now in her mid to late twenties, was living her own life more and more. Her life working in the nightclubs, her social life and her many love affairs were gradually taking over.  The monopoly that Sylvie seemed to have had on her previously was evaporating.

The dog grooming was still going on but on a much lesser scale, and the dog breeding and boarding had all but ceased. The financial impact was obvious in many ways, but none of it occurred to me at the time.

Over the years, slowly and gradually, everything started to descend.  The house started to become jaded; the investment put into it ten years previously was worn away with time. The carpets became faded and worn, the decor dated and aged, cupboards falling apart and windows old and rotting.

The house was permeated with the smell of dogs.  Years of grooming, breeding and caring for them, had caused the odour to become ingrained into the wallpaper, the furniture and the carpets. As well as the dog aroma,  was the ever present whiff in air of the Larry’s cigarettes and pipe tobacco, which had also caused yellow staining to the walls and ceilings of the main living rooms.

Any jobs that needed tackling were immense in labour or finance. It seems that there simply wasn’t the money, the capability or the inclination any more.

A Collaboration of Personalities.

Collaboration

When I look back and think about life in Sylvie’s house up until shortly after my adoption, it could almost be considered normal in comparison to the way life changed in the years following.

Prior to this time, the household had been running fairly ‘normally.’ Stan (Sylvie’s first husband) went to work, the kids went to school, Sylvie kept a clean house and nice garden. Even the rumors regarding Sylvie’s involvement with other men were brazened out by Sylvie.  The kids had always been used to hearing stuff , it didn’t really phase them, even gave them cause to giggle about it at times.

Added to that,  Sylvie’s eldest daughter, Gina,  was as strong headed and acid tongued as her mother and woe betide anyone that dared to say anything disparaging within her earshot.

When the trips to RAF Alconbury and other nights out had started, the older kids looked after the younger ones,  and although they were made to help keep the house spick and span, they lived life pretty much as all the other kids on the estate.

The state of their parent’s marriage was something they had lived with for years and it had become the norm. This was not unheard of at that time among many of their friends and families, divorce often not being an option, husbands and wives forced to continue in unhappy marriages and stay living together.

True, there were some stories of Sylvie’s frequent tongue lashings; it wasn’t unusual for them to receive the odd ‘walloping,’ including the time when Sylvie chased her eleven year old son along the street, banging him about the head with a frying pan and screaming, “Come here you little b*****d, I’ll knock your bleeding brains out when I get hold of you!”

For the most part, life just trundled on, but things were to change when Sylvie got together with new love, Larry. By the time my adoption was finalized, Sylvie was already pregnant with his child.

I’ve no idea how they met, which is strange considering the details of so many other things I know about. He had been married with two sons, the youngest not much older than me, and so it is possible that he was still with his wife at the time he met Sylvie.

Larry’s presence meant that certain changes had to take place, and whilst I do not blame him solely for the impact this had on the family, many events were triggered directly due to his appearance in our lives.

The collaboration of Sylvie’s complex personality, Larry’s selfish dominance and their handling of situations proved to be the start of immense disruption and changes;

Changes that caused ripples and knock on effects, extending outwards and cascading endlessly, over many years.

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.