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.

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“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.