In Care: Hard To Believe : 3

Joey’s parents died while he was young, and when his grandmother could no longer look after him, the Lady at the Big House intervened and he was sent to a children’s home. Read the first two episodes – Joey 1, Joey 2

I did write to the staff at the Big House a few times and sometimes I got a note back, although it turned out that quite a few of them had trouble reading and writing. Sometimes I got a little parcel with some treats made by Cook, who wrote that the Missus had told her to send them and was always asking after me.

One day one of the staff offered to take me on a visit. It had to be agreed by the Social Worker, who made a great fuss about how long it should be and how I must not be left unsupervised. Did she not know how many hours every day kids in the Home were left unsupervised? I thought it best not to tell her in case it started another row, with me at the receiving end again.

All the indoor staff gathered round in the kitchen and fussed and patted me and said I had grown. I boasted about how well I was doing at school and Cook nodded wisely over my head to the Housekeeper, who raised a warning finger to her lips and shook her head.

Then after much tugging at my tie and straightening of my socks I was sent upstairs to the Missus’ parlour. She smiled at me and patted my hair and tugged at my tie some more. She gave me some of Cook’s famous lemonade that was already set out on a tray, with some biscuits. How could I possibly eat a biscuit here, knowing that the crumbs would end up on the floor and all over my front? But I gave in, in the end. “You are turning into a handsome young man”, she said but I had the feeling that she was really looking over my head to that picture of another young man I had seen on my last visit to this room. “Your parents would be proud of you.”

At last it was time to go and I blurted out, “When can I come back, please, Missus? I want to come back here to work for you.” For a moment she hugged me, but quickly stepped back and went to look out of the window. “I don’t know, Thomas,” she said. I was confused because my name was Joey, short for Joseph, after my father, although I did have Thomas as my middle name. But the Missus knew I was Joey. She had been calling me that all the time I was with her. The maid whisked me out and closed the door.

“Don’t you think that was odd, Daisy?” I asked her. “Don’t know, I’m sure, young Master Joey,” she said. Then I was hugged and kissed all round and loaded into the car, with all sorts of treats and some new clothes and most precious of all, some books. As we drove off I noticed the Missus still standing by the window and I gave her a cheery wave. She nodded and smiled a bit.

Soon after this visit there was a Case Conference. In those days the grown ups all discussed things and then somebody told the kid what had been decided for him or her. The bloke in charge of the Home came to tell me I was going to live in a nearby town, with some people the Missus from the Big House knew, called Mr and Mrs Brown. They had picked them because Missus, who he called Lady Fredericks, had written to somebody important called the Director of Social Services and fixed it all up.

Among other things, it meant that I did not have to change schools like such a lot of kids who moved from the Home did. It seemed that it was one of the things the people in Case Conferences never thought about. So if it had not been for Lady Fredericks, as I now knew her name to be, I might have been sent anywhere. Just remember that she was the one who was supposed to be exploiting me.

So time to pack up again. I was sorry to leave the view from my bedroom. I had no idea what the place I was going to would be like – no preparatory visits in those days. But I was not sorry to be leaving the other three kids I shared with. They had all changed over the months I had been there and somehow the new ones were always worse than the ones who had gone. They always seemed to be bigger, worse bullies, smokers who would steal anything to get a packet of fags. They also swore at the staff, left their beds in a mess and pushed the little kids around. I tried to keep out of the way as much as possible, but there were many long hours between when the staff went off duty and came back again in the morning.

One place I had found to hide out was in the garden with Fred the gardener. He seemed very old, but also very wise. He struggled to push the heavy old wooden barrow around the walled garden and digging seemed so hard for him. It reminded me so much of the Big House and I soon fell into the habit of helping Fred, as I had once worked alongside my father on our small plot where we grew vegetables for the table and to barter. Fred was glad of the help in one way, but he was always wary in case anybody thought he could not manage and sacked him. Fortunately for both of us this never happened while I was there.

I’m happy to say that Lady Fredericks’ friends the Browns were good people. They were probably quite old, but they were not worn out like my parents had been and still seemed youngish. They certainly enjoyed walking in the woods and the nearby countryside, although at first I did not understand walking for pleasure. I had always walked a lot, but only because I had to, to get to school, to get to Gran’s, to get to the Big House. I had never had the leisure to walk just to see and enjoy things. I learned such a lot from them about birds and plants and trees. I even learned about light pollution and understood, at last, why the stars in the town do not seem to be as bright as when you see them in the countryside.

Occasionally we visited the Big House, or one of the maids came to see me. I began to notice that everyone was looking older and there didn’t seem to be so many workers about the place. Every time I saw Lady Fredericks I asked when I could come back to work for her. She said that I would be free to make my own decisions when I was eighteen, but to a fifteen-year-old that is a lifetime away. It was agreed with the Browns and Social Services that I could spend some of the holidays there and I did all I could to make myself useful.

Then came another Case Conference. It seemed that Lady Fredericks had taken a hand again. When I last visited her she had asked me if I had thought about going to College. When she explained a bit about it and the opportunities it would give me I became very enthusiastic. Of course I had to add, “But after that I still want to come back here and work for you.” Her reply was, “We’ll see, my boy; we’ll see”. So exams and the local College for Rural Studies and Estate Management were the next steps.

It took me some time to realise that all of this privilege cost money. So one day somewhat embarrassed I asked the Browns about it.

“Not to worry, old son. Lady Fredericks is your benefactress. Everything is taken care of. Nothing for you to worry about. You just concentrate on your work, but don’t forget to have a good time. Only young once you know.” Mr Brown was red in the face and clearly uncomfortable. “But why?” I wanted to know. “Why me?”

“Because you are such a lovely young man and I expect you remind her of her son Thomas,” Mrs Brown chipped in. Mr Brown frowned heavily and asked Mrs Brown to make some tea. Then he walked into his study and closed the door, the signal that he did not want to be disturbed.

So I did what Mr Brown suggested and after three years was awarded a Diploma. Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was to go back to thank the Browns and then to go to the Big House. The Browns kindly said that I could stay with them as long as I wanted and to continue to regard it as my home. But I was focused on the Big House, although what job there a Diploma in Estate Management had prepared me for I was not sure.

Lady Fredericks was looking distinctly more frail, although she seemed genuinely pleased to see me and keen to hear about my results and some of my exploits at college. She seemed to know a lot about it herself, so I suppose she must have known Lord Fredericks when he was a student.

At last I got round to the point of my visit as far as I was concerned. “Well,” I said. “I have turned eighteen now and can make my own decisions. Please can you find me a job here my Lady?”

She smiled. “There is certainly work for you to do here, Joey. But the pay might not be very good and you have become accustomed to a very different way of life from the little boy who came here to be our Boot Boy.”

Of course, I did choose to work there, until in the end Lady Fredericks died and everything was sold off and the staff were ‘let go’. I suppose I was one of the more fortunate ones. I had had a first class education and after I returned, I had worked my way up to being the Estate Manager, as well as doing all the household accounts and ordering and overseeing all the repairs and maintenance work that could be afforded. It enabled me to set up in a small local hotel.

Eventually I had enough spare time to take an interest in what was happening around me. I was persuaded to stand for the local and then the County Council. So every now and then I get the chance to put my experiences to good use, when we look at Council policies, or we make visits to children’s homes, or we have to make decisions about ‘out of County placements.’ I try to make sure that we think of all those little things that matter to a child and the Social Workers never think about, or if they do they don’t think they are important.

Were they right to take me away, or should they have left me at the Big House? Well, there were certainly plenty of times when I had wished I was back there, when things were not going well. On the other hand, because of the opportunities I had I can now help others more. But you must remember that it was largely due to Lady Fredericks’ interference that I got those opportunities and that she was the one Social Services claimed was exploiting me!

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