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.”

She had to have the last word!

Bury

Sylvie always had to have the last word, no matter what.

As it turned out, this even was to be the case when it came to her death.

It was a cold Thursday evening in mid January and I had popped in to Sylvie’s to pick up my daughter on my way home from work.

On the stove was one of Sylvie’s lovely stews, bubbling away and smelling delicious. As I was helping myself to spoonful, Sylvie was trying to get me to have a bowlful of another of her specialties – a treacle suet pudding. I laughed and said no, I just wanted a taste and that dinner would be waiting for me at home.

Sylvie followed me down the hallway to the front door to see me out. As we opened the front door, a freezing cold blast of air swirled in and we shivered, pulling our clothes tight around us.

I gave Sylvie a peck on the cheek saying, “See you tomorrow,”  and adding, “Get yourself inside out of the cold and keep the heat in.”

Looking up to the sky, Sylvie replied, ” I reckon we’re going to get some of that bloody snow from America.”  (The east coast of America had suffered heavy snow falls that week.)

She died suddenly and unexpectedly at Home the next morning.

One week late it was Sylvie’s funeral. She had wanted to be cremated, and so we decided to bury her ashes in her mother’s grave.

As we stood at the graveside in heavy snow, freezing and ankle deep, I looked to the sky and said to myself, “You were right weren’t you, we got that snow from America. – You’d have to have the last bloody word!”

I could have done it with one hand tied behind my back!

Polish

The endless hours spent on domestic chores; washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning and such had equipped me perfectly for the subject of Home Economics (as it was known at that time). It was the days when girls were given lessons at school on how to properly iron a shirt, to cook, how to properly polish the furniture and to clean the home.

Producing the pastry to make a pie was second nature to me, and the ironing of a shirt was something I could have done with my eyes closed. The daily task of generating a meal for anything from eight to twelve of us was something I had been having to do for years.

I’m sure it is a subject I could easily have obtained a one hundred per cent grade at ‘O’ level,  had I continued it as one of my options, but the years I did have to participate in the lessons were something that was to cause me a constant headache.

Every week we were given a list of ingredients to bring along for the next week’s lesson,  to cook up the chosen recipe ourselves. Every week I would return home with the list, ever hopeful of a positive response but Sylvie’s replies were always the same; “You needn’t think I’m shelling out for that bleeding lot!” or, “They’re having bleeding laugh aren’t they, I could feed us all bloody week for what  that lot costs, tell them to get lost! Who the f**k do they think I am, bleeding Rockerfeller!”

Every week I would have to make up some excuse, “Sorry I forgot, or sorry, my mum forgot to go shopping, and sorry, I left my cookery bag at home.” Only on rare occasions when it was something simple like a rice pudding or and egg custard would Sylvie grudgingly agree,  and would I be able to pilfer the ingredients from the pantry at home.

At the first opportunity, when choosing our ‘O’ level options, I dropped the subject, with an enormous sense of relief. I used to watch the girls who continued the subject, turning up at school with their pretty little cooking baskets, ingredients weighed out in Tupperware tubs, cooking up that weeks’ dish with enormous concentration, struggling to get it right, knowing I could have done the same things easily with one hand tied behind my back.

Clear my Plate.

Portion

Sylvie could make good meals out of very little and she could talk for hours about how she learned this from her mother.

The softer side of Sylvie would emerge at these times, and these talks with her was one of the things that seemed to lighten things, take the pressure off, if only for short time.

I always recall these times with a warm glow, the memories of them conjuring up a sense that it was a time of normality, everything was pleasant and I had a feeling of being loved and cared for.

It didn’t matter that the talks tended to happen when I’d been ordered to help with laborious task such as washing, cooking, gardening or cleaning. It helped lighten the load, made time pass quicker, and was a time when Sylvie would actually remain pleasant.

She would go into great detail about the wonderful meals her mother cooked for the family and how she had preserved fruit, made jams and stews and ensured they all well fed, despite not having much money.

Sylvie wasn’t an incredible cook but she taught me how to make good, wholesome meals and to make the most with the things you have. She could turn the cheapest cuts of meats into lovely tender and tasty meals and make delicious stews, bolstering them with lentils and pearl barley to make them more filling.

Meat was expensive and with so many of us in the house, portions of it needed to be small. However, our meals were always supplemented with extra vegetables, potatoes, bread or a Yorkshire pudding to make them more filling. Sometimes, she would make delicious rice puddings, egg custards and jam or treacle suet puddings, conjuring them up from things found in the fridge or larder.

Wasting food was something that could never be considered. The use of seasonal fruit and vegetables was the norm,  as was the use of leftovers for another meal.

Ingrained within me is an inability to waste food and an ability to make good meals with whatever is available.

To this day I find it almost impossible to leave food on my plate and need to polish it off, however full I am. This was bought about by years of being forced to clear my plate, with Sylvie hovering over me with the threat of ‘You’ll bloody well sit there until you’ve finished it!” followed up with, “or I’ll paste the bleeding living daylights out of you,” or “You’ll eat it cold for your f*****g breakfast!”

I don’t recall any of these threats actually happening, most likely because having the certain knowledge that she would carry them through, none of us would ever dare to take the risk.

Detonate Something Within Her.

Detonate

The dog grooming obviously provided a substantial portion of the income into the house and was essential to keep things going. Even though Bridget and I would be forced to help with the bathing and drying of the dogs, a lot of the work, and all of the the skill, was down to my second eldest sibling, Lily.

I don’t know that there was ever any proper arrangement regarding payment or wages of any kind, or whether Sylvie ever gave Lily any amounts of cash. Lily didn’t pay any board money, rightly so, given the amount of money bought in from the dog grooming.

Sylvie must have supplemented things in some ways, as Lily always had nice things. She dressed nicely, in fashionable clothes, had lovely shoes and handbags, and the latest expensive perfumes such as Dior, Rive Gauche and Chanel. I am guessing that these were a sort of ‘payment in kind.’

Apart from the short time working in a pet shop after leaving school, Lily had never really gone out to work and was quiet and shy, very much the opposite to Sylvie and her older sister Gina.

Sylvie always put Lily’s quieter ways down to her not getting a chance to speak when she was little. She said that Lily would not get the chance to open her mouth, as Gina always spoke for her. If Sylvie asked Lily if she wanted a biscuit, before she could open her mouth, Gina would pipe up, “Of course she does, what are you asking her for?” It was Gina who would declare, “Mum, Lily wants a drink,” or “Mum, Lily needs the toilet,” regardless of whether she did or not.

For a long time, working at home and grooming the dogs had suited her, saved her from having to go out to find work, hampered by her lack of confidence. Now in her early twenties and still at home grooming the dogs, Lily was immensely attractive and very slim with long brown hair.

At this point, there must have been something that ignited a spark, that was to detonate something within Lily. She had started working a few nights a week, in nightclubs in the town, working as a barmaid. It gave her some independence, her own money, some freedom, friends, 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 expensive cars such as a Lotus or a Rolls Royce. Regardless, Lily always dressed up to meet them. 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 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, gliding out of the door until the early hours of the morning.

“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.