In Care : Hard to Believe 2

Joey was brought up in the countryside, and when his parents died, his grandmother looked after him. Now, she was seriously ill, and the Lady at the big house intervened. To read the first episode, click here.

They were talking about a boy and then I realised that it was me. Phrases like “Poor lad” and “What of the future?” were being muttered. Then I heard Cook say, “Well I wouldn’t mind having his future I can tell you.” Then someone else said, “Have you noticed, he’s the image of young Master Tom at that age.” I must have started at that point because there was a lot of shushing and chairs scraping and when I opened my eyes most of them were on the way out, or very busily occupied with work that meant they could not look at me.

Next day the Missus’ maid took me to town. I got several lots of underwear, socks, shirts, pullovers, shoes and a jacket and some long trousers. (My first!). No money changed hands and so I was introduced to shopping ‘on account’ for the first time. Hard to believe now that there were no credit cards and that I had been used to small change only, or bartering with people for what we could not grow ourselves.

A lot of my clothes had been my father’s cast offs, shortened or taken in by my mother. My pullovers, scarves, socks and gloves had been knitted by my mother using wool she unravelled from other garments, some of which I think came from the Big House. So the colours of my knitwear could be unpredictable or unsuitable for a growing boy, but I knew no better until now. For the first time I discovered that you could choose the colour of a pullover and it would be the same all over, including the thickness of the wool! It seemed that I was learning a lot, some of which I understood, some which I only came to grasp over a period of time.

Next we went to the hospital to see Gran. She seemed so small and shrunken in that hospital bed. But like me she was warm and well fed and had no need to worry or struggle just to exist. We gave her the tit-bits from Cook and I discovered that the Missus had also sent nighties, a dressing gown and slippers and what I later learned to call toiletries. I thought this was extraordinarily kind.

The only thing that seemed to worry Gran was what had happened to some of the papers that had been in her house, having been moved over there from our house when she took me in. I said they had been packed in a trunk and that I would try to find out where it had gone.

Sadly that was the last time I saw Gran. The Missus called me in a few days later and told me that Gran had drifted away peacefully in her sleep. She also told me that the Social Workers would be coming back, now that I was an orphan and had no known living relatives. She said she wanted me to stay here in the House, but she told me she expected that I would be taken into care. The officials thought that I was being exploited. Ha! How little did they know or bother to find out. I wondered what and where ‘care’ was.

How could anybody think it was in my best interests to be taken away from this lovely place, where there were lots of adults to look out for me? How could it be better to be taken to a big home for children with all kinds of problems, near the County Town, with no one person really responsible for looking after me? Certainly nobody bothered to ask me what I wanted.

Off we went in a car. I was getting quite blasé about cars by now. Two car rides in a week. The home was a bit like a mini-version of the Big House, although there were no servants, or men working on the grounds, so it all looked a bit scruffy. I was put in a room with three other boys and a nice care staff lady helped me to unpack and settle in. Tea-time was noisy and chaotic. I expected to be given some work to do, but after tea all the kids went off to mess about in the grounds, or to the playroom to play music and fight over something they called table tennis.

I crept off upstairs to look out of the window. I had noticed that there was a lovely view over the fields to the hills. One of the staff came in and we talked about what we could see. He worked out that where I had lived was the other side of those hills and so after that I spent a lot of time at that window, trying to imagine what was going on in the Big House.

I was introduced into the local school and, surprisingly, was soon doing quite well. Apparently I had ‘natural aptitude’ and so caught up quickly. I also liked schoolwork and spent a lot of time doing homework, although I did most of it in the lunch hour at school. This was because ‘kids from the Home’ were not very popular with some of the other pupils, mainly because they got a lot more treats than the local kids. I also liked to work at school where I could find a quiet corner more easily than at the Home.

The Home had a minibus and all the staff had cars, so we were always getting taken to places. I remember the first time I went to the cinema. I had no idea what it was going to be like. I thought it might be like TV. The first time I had seen TV  was one of the last times I went to the village school. The Big House sent it down because they had got a new one. We all crowded round the flickering black and white pictures to see something educational. I can tell you that although there were several TVs in the Home nothing much educational got watched.

Anyway, when we went to the cinema I was amazed at the size of the screen and the noise from the speakers. I’ve no idea what we saw. I was too busy looking around partly in fear and partly because I was highly excited. I thought I must tell Gran about this and then I remembered I had no-one I could tell. It was ages before I told one of the staff that I had never been before. Now, of course, I pop along to the local Multi-Plex quite often and have a tidy collection of videos and DVDs, so that I can watch anything I want at any time. In the Home what we watched depended on which staff were on duty, or what the biggest, toughest kid wanted. I used to slip off to read when something I didn’t want to see came on, although it did take me some time to tire of watching for the sake of watching, rather than because I wanted to see something special.

I was also totally in awe when we came out of the cinema after dark and the streets were still bright as day. We had had no street lighting anywhere near the village. We had only the light of the moon and the bright, bright stars. I looked up and was disappointed to see that although the streets were bright the stars seemed dull here. When we got back to the Home where there were just lights streaming from nearly every window and the security lights at each corner I looked up again. The stars were brighter here, but still not as good as at home.

I had, by now, found out about pocket money and we kids were allowed to go to the village, or catch the bus, or get a lift to town to do shopping for ourselves. I saw some of the kids taking stuff and not paying for it and that worried me. I did not think they had an account with the shop like the Missus. I got into all kinds of bother when, in all innocence, I asked one of the staff if the Home had an account at Woolworth’s.

I got beaten up and none of the big kids would speak to me. They did nasty things like peeing in my bed and shouting to staff that I had wet my bed, something I never remember doing even as a little kid. I just kept quiet and kept out of the way. So one thing ‘care’ taught me was about shop-lifting. It also showed that none of the grown ups were really looking out for me. Nobody in the House would have let any of this happen.

Care also taught me about playing truant or what some of the kids called ‘wagging’. I could not understand why they would want to be out in the cold and wet, rather than being warm and dry and learning interesting stuff at school. So although they put a lot of pressure on me I never joined in. I also learned not to ‘dob’ to the staff.

Then there was disobedience and swearing. Nobody in my world before ‘care’ had refused to do things for anybody in authority. Certainly the kids at school never dreamed of it. Nor did the staff at the House. Cook’s word was law below stairs and the Housekeeper was in charge of everything else, except for the farm and the garden, but both these places had their own gaffers.

I don’t know how the grown ups talked among themselves, but throughout my childhood I never heard swear words, so of course when I heard one of the kids telling another to “F… off” I just thought it was another way to say go away and leave me alone. So I tried it out on one of the staff and that caused me some bother too.

There were some things I really hated about being ‘in care’. One was that people who didn’t know me and who I know didn’t care about me made decisions about me. They poked their noses in when I was living with Gran. They moved me from the Big House when I didn’t want to go and the Missus was prepared to look after me. They put me in the Home with lots of other kids who had seen and done all kinds of things I knew nothing about. They didn’t notice I was being bullied or protect me. I got sent to the local school without anybody bothering to see if I would fit in or it would meet my needs. In the end ‘they’ decided to move me to live with a family and I had small choice in the matter. If I had to leave the Home the one place I wanted to go back to was the Big House.

Continued next month.

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