Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography
The night of December 21 2004 I was driving home to London from a dinner party in Kent . Monica had gone away on holiday and I was speeding along hard windy country roads, following my nose. As I climbed a steep hill I sensed I knew this road and as I got to the top I realised I was right next to the place the Social Worker had brought me 34 years previously. This new “home” was called Pastens. It had been an Orphanage since 1946 but the old house had burnt down in 1958. The new buildings, the ones I pulled up next to had been built in 1963. Pastens was situated on the Surrey / Kent border, in an area called Limpsfield.
JCH had been run by Barnardos but Pastens was a National Children’s Home, which was an organisation run by the Methodist Church . I don’t remember much about being shown around the place the first time but the two women who ran the place were stern figures with gull winged glasses and a car to match. The buildings were soulless and smelt of cleaning materials and the only thing that had any redeeming features was the garden which existed on at least four terraces. We weren’t allowed down to the bottom one which was overgrown and had snakes in it apparently. After being shown around I was driven back to my mother’s and dropped off there for the summer. But it would be Roehampton hospital where I would spend it. I’m not sure how aware I was of the ensuing surgery but I was booked in for an attempt at straightening my right foot.
* * *
A few days before the operation was to take place Mum took me to Roehampton where I was to settle in and be prepared for surgery. This would include not eating or drinking anything for 24 hours, being injected with a premed sedation drug and having the area to be worked on shaven.
The woman who ran the ward I stayed on, Sister Gwen Meers, had looked after me there since I first visited it when I was 6 months old. She had taken my welfare in to consideration not just when I was on the ward but away from it too, for instance by visiting me in the nursery, where, she told me she found I’d been unattended to for many hours, and talking to my mother to see if she could help her in anyway. Sister Meers later became the matron of the hospital and went on to receive an O.B.E. but her first love had been working on this ward. The Ward had originally been set up to help deal with children who had disabilities as a result of the Thalidomide drug, but soon spread its specialisation as a ward for limbless children to other forms of disabilities
In many ways our generation were the guinea-pigs for the doctor’s experiments and while I have the utmost respect for them all there were mistakes made and learned from but many of my peers still literally bare the scars of their endeavours.
* * *
When I was very young my mother was asked if she would give permission for my finger and both my feet to be amputated. She said no. The reasoning behind my feet being taken away was that I could have artificial feet fitted to both legs which would overcome my difficulties with my clubbed feet. It’s hard to tell if this would have been beneficial however I would have always relied on having prosthetic feet and the psychological impact of not being able to even hop may have been detrimental. With regards my finger the only reason given was that it was unsightly. It still is unsightly but it’s extremely functional so I’m glad to have it, my finger and I are friends – I cried in a dream where I was offered normal arms because I knew I would lose my finger if I was to proceed with the transplant -.
A friend of mine, Tara, who has similar arms and short legs also had a finger but that was taken off. Her parents were also pressurised to give permission for her feet to be amputated so artificial legs could be fitted more easily but her parents declined that special offer. Many children had parents who blindly followed the doctor’s orders and some children who’d been handed over to the authorities had no parents to defend them so they were operated on. Often the main criteria was to affect a more cosmetically acceptable image rather than to help people functionally so some people who could walk with legs that would not bend might have their ligaments cut so they could be neatly sat in a wheelchair, however they’d no longer be able to walk.
The distrust between the medical world and the disability political world was partly born of this butchering. The stem of the problem arose from the power invested in doctors to make decisions over not only the approach to dealing with disabilities but also whether disabled people should live or not. During the 1980’s the government in the UK changed the law regarding abortion time limits on developing foetuses. It lessened the time during “term” up to when an abortion could take place however if a foetus was found to have a disability it could be aborted at any point up to the moment before birth. The main criteria used to determine whether this should happen or not was that the doctor could decide if the child’s quality of life would be worth living. How could a doctor know this? When I went with the mother of my first children to the ante-natal clinic the doctor could not believe that the pregnancy had been planned because he presumed, I presume, there was either a possibility of it being hereditary or that I wouldn’t be an able father. My disability isn’t hereditary but even if it was, isn’t the quality of my life a lot better than many people’s? Had my mother had an ultrasonic scan when she was pregnant with me I probably would never have been born.
* * *
I’m going to tell you now that the surgery I was just about to undergo didn’t work properly and 8 years down the line I would go through having my foot amputated, not as a result of this surgery but partly because it didn’t work. Possibly because of witnessing their fallibility I have grown up with a disregard for “experts”.
* * *
When mum dropped me off at the hospital and told me she’d come to see me the next day I kissed and waved goodbye to her then quietly went to the TV room where I sat on the floor and proceeded to pick my nose and eat it. This possibly was taking self sufficiency a bit far. A din of disgust emanated from those around me. I looked around in horror but did not realise my crime. A slightly older boy with no arms at all, Christopher, was sitting nearby. He looked at me and said “don’t you know if you eat your bogeys they’ll turn in to worms and eat your brains out”.
I have to say I was quite disturbed by this and swallowed my last ever bogey once and for all. I must have looked quite distressed because the other mothers and children started to laugh. I got up to walk out of the room, slightly tearful by now, and as I did so Christopher grabbed my pyjama bottoms with his toes and pulled them down. Abandoned, with my brains being munched at by bogey worms and my pyjama bottoms around my ankles I ran at Christopher with my foot carefully aimed at his head. He pushed me away with his legs while the other mothers pulled me away from him. He was laughing, I was screaming in anger. Sister Meers came in to see what the commotion was and took me away to calm down.
* * *
The next day Christopher and I were a bit quiet with each other until a new toy was brought in. This was a traffic light that had lights that could be switched on by pulling up buttons. The green light one was very stiff and neither Christopher nor I could lift it. I looked up to see a nurse who was about the same size as us. In other words she was a midget, that isn’t by the way the politically correct term. “Oi miss!” I said, “Can you come and do this for us please”. She came over, a big grin on her face and helped us with the lights. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Murphy” she said. “Thank you miss”. Apparently this was Murphy’s induction in to the world of looking after disabled kids and this moment was one she carried with her from then on as one of those “I’ll never forget when” stories which she always tells whenever we meet up.
Another nurse, Mary Coloughan, took me under her wing during this time. She was very tall, leggy, had long black wavy hair, with a pre-Raphaelite looking face and deep red lips. She would often hold me and hug me. In return for this I gave her a nickname that stuck with her from then on. “Mary Lamb” was my first love, or at least the first I can recall. I would yearn for her when I left hospital and when I’d return I’d feel heartbroken if she wasn’t working there. When I was 21 we met again and I still felt a bit of a spark for her, but, alas, to her I was still that 5 year old who touched her heart with affection and her life with a nick name. Still, I did try as hard as I could to seduce her, just for old time’s sake, but alas she wasn’t having any of it!
* * *
For most people the association of going to hospital is a negative one, but for me and for many of my peers Roehampton was half home and half horror house.
* * *
The morning of my surgery I was to be sedated with an injection known as a pre-med. A nurse came in to my room and asked me to turn on to my front, which I did, she pulled my pyjamas down then I felt something cold being wiped on one of my buttocks. I felt a sharp pain. I jerked suddenly, the syringe tore my skin slightly and the needle broke. The nurse swore, I screamed and Sister Meers ran in to the room. When she saw what had happened she tried to reason with me to let her get the remaining needle out but I wasn’t too inclined with that prospect so she called in reinforcements. I had people holding my legs, arms, torso and head down. Remember I was only 5, I’m quite proud of myself as I write this. By this time I’d managed to get myself in to the growling mode of a temper. I continued to wiggle and eventually I heard Sister Meers say that it was impossible to do anything. She came up to my face and said to me that if I let her do what she had to do she’d let me do an injection. I said ok if I could do it on her. She agreed. So, still being held down, she got the first needle out and put a second one in and successfully delivered the pre-med. Now it was my turn.
Sister Meers then told me she wasn’t going to let me inject her. I don’t think you can quite imagine my disappointment, “You bloody bastards” I no doubt thought “You inflict pain and lied to me, if that’s not adding insult to injury what is?” or something on those lines. Instead they allowed me to inject a teddy bear which got its vengeance because as I pushed the plunger down on the syringe the liquid squirted back in my face. This definitely wasn’t one of my days. I should have known by such omens that it wouldn’t work n the long run.
The surgery which was performed on me included breaking the bones in my ankle, repositioning my foot, inserting metal rods, known as pins, so that my foot would stay in position and then plastering me up. Over the next three months the plaster was removed and a plaster with a rubber foot soul was put on so that I could walk around. Eventually the pins were removed and I was plastered up yet again until the bones had fused together. Every time I had surgery I had a pre-med, and after coming around I was always ill from the anaesthetic.
I spent a lot of this recovery time at Roehampton. At one point Mum went on holiday with one of the staff nurses from the ward. I can remember feeling a bit angry about her going off and even though she bought me an Olympic bag I wonder if this was a time when a kind of jealous feeling became infused in to me. I don’t remember thinking that Mum had abandoned me for someone else but the thought probably crossed my mind. If she wasn’t with me where was she? And who might she be with?
* * *
As my relationship with Monica approached its death knell she bought me a bag because she didn’t like me carrying my paper work in plastic carrier bags. But the memory of mum buying me a bag felt echoed in this gesture, the symbolism being around the notion of things being held, contained, in a container that didn’t show what was inside. I always analysed everything, wanted to expose what was really being said or meant and perhaps both Mum and Monica didn’t want things to be so open.
* * *
The other night I dreamt that I was in charge of a group of captives trying to escape from the Nazis. The significant factor was that we could go back in time and attempt an improved escape whenever we made a mistake, a bit like the film “Groundhog Day”. Eventually we hatched a plan that worked.
As I grow older and see the mistakes I’ve made I also see the opportunities I now have to do things differently and possibly with a more successful outcome, the only problem is that sometimes, even though I know what I’m doing isn’t going to help matters I still do it
- * *
Pastens – The long Haul
When Mum brought me to Pastens she was shown where I would be sleeping, the gardens and the lounge. She was then asked not to come back for a month. This was with a view to me acclimatising to my new environment. But mum insisted that she would return in two weeks, and given that I was there on a “voluntary” basis, rather than because of a court order they couldn’t insist she stayed away.
I remember very clearly crying uncontrollably as mum left me in the foyer. I don’t remember what consoled me, or what happened next at all, but the feeing of loneliness shook me then. I couldn’t imagine leaving my children alone for such a long time and no doubt for mum too it was very painful.
Most of the other children, and there weren’t many of them, had either learning difficulties or had been neglected, subjected to violence, or abused . There were two sisters who seemed to have a genetic related learning disorder, and then there was Jane, Sue and Paul. For the six of us there was a matron, several “nurses”, a cook and her husband the Gardener.
About a third of a mile away was St Peter’s, which was my new school, built of sandstone it had stood there for a hundred years. We had to wear a uniform which included grey shorts, shirt, sweater, a cap and a school colours tie. To the front of the school was a playground that faced the main road and surrounding the school were fields and woods.
Every morning we’d be lined up in the playground and would march into the classroom to a tune played on the piano by one of the staff members. We’d march to our desks and when the music stopped we’d take our chairs down from upon the desk and sit on them.
My teachers were not quite sure of my needs and didn’t spend too much time working out what they might be, instead they presumed what they were and came up with what they imagined were appropriate solution. This was all done with best intentions but being given extra large exercise books – as in they were almost larger than me – and being kept in during break time so I wouldn’t get injured were not gratefully accepted by me and within days I was penning my great works in the same size books as all the other kids and playing the same playground contact sports as them too.
Perhaps a good indication of having a good schooling is that we don’t remember much about the place. So outside of playing in the woods, and sliding down a big embankment on a journey to the local town, staying in the class room during storms, saying hello to the lollipop man –who was on TV one day talking about how dangerous the road was – and that I won the egg and spoon race but lost the sack race at sports day what I am left with is just a couple of mildly traumatic events.
The first was of a girl shunning my advances. I don’t remember her name now but she had blonde hair and was pretty and when I asked her if she’d be my girlfriend she laughed and walked away. – This became somewhat of an annoying pattern throughout my life, hence my penchant for brunettes.
The school was around a mile away from Pastens and a member of staff would push me in a buggy to and fro daily, often we’d take the path through the woods which would almost be overgrown with ferns. One day I’d acquired an apple and wanted to eat it before being pushed back to Pastens. I stood in the school corridor eating the apple. Jane, my co-habiter at Pastens came up to me to tell me to hurry up, so I told her I’d come when I finished the apple. She then let me know that she’d be telling the woman waiting for us that I was eating the apple so I looked her in the eye, a look Martin Scorsce would be proud of, then kicked her very hard on the shin. We looked at each other for a moment as her eyes welled up with tears and then came the shrieks. I ate the apple as soon as I could and marched out of the school with Jane limping and screaming ahead of me. “He just kicked me” she said through her tears. “Did you Simon?” asked the care worker. “Well she hit me first” I lied. Jane paused in disbelief “No I didn’t” she yelled. My cunning plan unfurled in front of her tear stained eyes. She looked to the care worker for support but she just added her own two penneth-worth.
“Well Simon you shouldn’t kick girls, or boys come to that matter, in fact don’t kick anyone!”
So like those couples you see in cars who’ve just had a row, both looking out of their own windows Jane and I sat together in the buggy looking away from one another the whole journey long.
* * *
I gave Boris a lift this morning . He looked at me and said “Sometimes I look at you and wonder if I was as stupid as you when I was your age and I realise I was!” We both laughed and he said “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”.
* * *
I do not remember how Sue, my first live in girlfriend would fall asleep. Sometimes I would hold her hand and wake from some strange, almost nauseas dream, where for instance I had to make a ring of match sticks in the ground. I would awake to find I was making love to her. She too would be half asleep. In our last days I looked upon her body, which had become quite thin after a period of depression, I knew that in a short while I would no longer see her anymore.
A year later I was sleeping regularly with Julia, she would cuddle up to me for a while as she drifted off. I wasn’t ready to sleep yet so I would wait till she wanted me to go then get up and work for a few hours then come back to bed with her. She would welcome me in to her arms. Earlier though, as she drifted off she would feel irritated and tell me to go. If I didn’t go quickly enough she would start to push me away, or even start pinching me. I would laugh which would annoy her even more. As time went on I’d sleep with her less and les and one day I no longer slept with her.
At first Eileen and I didn’t sleep next to each other. I didn’t want her to, but as I started to fall in love with her I would come to bed even if it was too early for me and fall asleep anyway. I would lie in the half light of morning looking at Eileen’s beautiful face and want to touch her but not want to wake her up. Sometimes I would see her body as if it was a prison wall. She would often say she preferred to sleep alone and one day I granted her her wish, I stopped seeing her.
Monica was next, she would lay and chat with me for hours then we’d get tired and the conversation would fade away. I’d move away from her as I’d get too hot and she’d reach her arm out, maybe touching my face, or arm. In the middle of the night we’d cuddle up to each other and in the morning she would not want to talk. We could spend all day in bed, looking at the internet, snacking and sleeping.
And now there’s Kathy. The first night we slept together I was drawn to her by the way we slept together. I would wake with her lips touching my mouth, or her arm wrapped around mine or her breath breathing in and out of me. This conversation between our bodies spoke to me of the depths my heart will go to find dreams in reality.
* * *
I have just spent the last two weeks sleeping next to Kathy nearly every night. This morning I dropped her off at a station with a friend and from there they made their way to the airport. They are going on holiday for a week. I went back to her place to get some of my bits and pieces and as I walked out I looked back into the early morning dark rooms as if I might never see them again.
I’d said to Kathy that if she becomes sexually involved – which to be specific covers anything from a drunken kiss to an affair in my mind – then I won’t see her anymore. It’s not so much the act itself, that I possibly could forgive, but it’s my own inability to cope with mistrust. I need a woman who marks out the boundaries of our relationship to other people without me interjecting. I want someone to love me enough that they don’t need anyone else. A friend of mine had told me that his wife would be “confounded” if he was to become involved with someone else, I was touched by that notion.
* * *
When I stood crying at the doors of Pastens I probably cried because I knew I’d miss my mother, I’d miss home, I knew I’d feel isolated and vulnerable, but perhaps worst of all it was the hatred that filled me towards my mother for leaving me there that upset me the most. To feel such anger towards the one I loved meant that in time I would tear myself from her. The same process fills me with anxiety as an adult. I have fallen for Kathy and if she “betrays” me then I would have to dislocate myself from her but in the process lose someone I’ve come to love. To get out of the way of a situation that is damaging by leaving someone you love takes a lot of emotional energy because it hurts so much.
* * *
I had a dream a few months ago about a girl on a bike careering towards me on a road. She nearly bumped into me so I shouted at her as she cycled off. She turned around and put two fingers up at me.
One of the things that came to me after this dream was that if I see someone coming at me I have a choice to get out of their way, and if I stand in the road then I may increase the risk of getting run over.
From the moment I met Kathy she had a bike with her. If I think she can’t be trusted it’s up to me to get out of the way and not be a victim. If I decide to remain in the line of fire then maybe I should take some responsibility.
* * *
It has been a day and a half since Kathy went away. My mind has been wondering all over the place, my body has been full of fear sensations. Cold sweats, weakness, aching, nausea, lack of hunger. A couple of months ago, before I met her I was feeling pretty good. I had got over separating with Monica and was enjoying life. Over the last few weeks the relationship with Kathy deepened to the extent that both of us said we could feel that there was something potentially significant about our relationship. The feeling I have for her is one that is so strong that the thought of being with someone else sexually is almost repulsive. So if she had the same feelings for me then I would feel secure. But I can’t hold that belief so instead I visualise her getting drunk and getting involved with somebody else. Every moment of the day seems stretched out as I await the day of her.
* * *
When I was in Pastens I didn’t know what sex was. I would sometimes play with the girls and get them to let me put my head on their stomachs. I sensed that this was a bit naughty and tried it on with all the girls in the home. The idea of looking at or playing with each other’s private parts was not as yet in my mind, but one night I was put to bed in a room upstairs with Sue. It was still light outside and one of the care workers came upstairs to tell us to get to sleep. After she’d gone back downstairs Sue called me over to her bed and told me to look between her legs. When I did I saw a red hollow and smelt a strong odour. She asked me to touch her there but instead I ran back to my bed feeling quite disgusted. Years later mum told me that Sue had been a victim of sexual abuse. For me, the lack of intimacy in my life was aided by putting my head on a tummy, but for Sue at 5 years old, it was already found via genital stimulation.
* * *
Even at 5 years old I was playing the girls around me off against each other. It wasn’t deliberate it was more a case of wanting to have access to all of them but not being sensitive to how they felt. Whenever I feel like I want attention from lots of women it’s mainly because there isn’t one that fulfils me. When a woman comes along who feels like she’s enough I don’t want to see any other women at all. At 5 years old the woman who could be enough, my mother, wasn’t available so instead the whispers of her that I could find in those around me kept me going.
A few years ago I read some notes compiled about me by the matron of Pastens and in it she said I was shallow, and that I would crave attention and affection from anyone who was willing to show me any. When I read that my heart went out to the child that had been me.
There were a few relationships between others and my self that did have some depth to them, firstly there was Jane and Paul who for almost two years were my “siblings” and then there was a couple of night staff who would come and cuddle us. One was called Maria she had long dark hair and olive skin. I thought she was beautiful and became very attached to her. She would come and talk to us in our beds, she would put her arms around us and kiss us goodnight. Perhaps it was because she looked after us through the night that she could see our need for intimacy. She would watch us fall asleep, see our bodies move or hear our voices call out as we dreamt and to both us and herself she was our only protectorate through the darkness. Even though she wouldn’t see us in our daily routines perhaps her view allowed her to see our core identities, which were most likely those of lost children. Her heart reached out to us and we grabbed hold of her with all our might. One night she came over to me, put her arms around me and told me she would be leaving soon and not coming back. I started to cry and asked her not to go, but she told me she would be getting married soon and moving somewhere else. Recently my mother told me she could have kept in contact with Maria but didn’t see the need to.
* * *
For many years I have led a nocturnal life. I tend to find I can work for hours without a break during the early hours of morning. I do not feel lonely, I have very little need to communicate with others at that time of day, a big relief to my friends no doubt and I am not easily distracted from what I am focusing on. The opposite is true of daytime. I find it hard to get on, I want to meet up with friends, and I am very easily sidetracked. Given the night can be so isolating this seems a bit of a paradox to me but perhaps it’s the feeling that there was someone there for me if I needed them at night when I was a child that is behind this. Perhaps though I keep busy at night because I don’t want to go sleep for to get in to bed reminds me I am one of the lost children.
* * *
“Silence they say is golden but sometimes it’s deadly too, so why is it so quiet tonight, between me and you?”
Over the last few days Kathy has telephoned me from Turkey , and just by the sound of her voice I have felt reassured that she hasn’t been unfaithful to me while she’s been away. Tonight is her last night away and she hasn’t called me. I wasn’t expecting her to call but the silence allows my mind to fill in the gaps with every scenario it can come up with.
Some people think it is what is done or said that has the most profound effects on our lives, but in a way what is acted out in action, or said in the heat of the moment tends to be as a result of silence and / or inaction. As we lie down to sleep our minds find long periods of silence and inactivity and fills them with dreams. When we are awake we do the same. The thing is when we wake from dreams we tend to automatically differentiate between what was dreamt and what is real. But when we deal with non sleep silence we become very unsure as to whether what we are considering is real or just fantasy. Being able to let go and wait until I am faced with what is real is something I find very difficult to do.
When I play chess I tend to use the time my player takes to make their move, to work out what their next move will to be. When I’m in a relationship I try to imagine what my partner might say to me. When I play chess and the person makes a move I thought they’d do I tend to react very quickly and make my return move almost immediately. This has the effect of making me look like a very quick thinker and it tends to intimidate my opponent, if they’re a beginner – an good player will probably think I must be a beginner -. The problem is once my opponent has made their move the board now looks slightly different in comparison to the version I’d imagined.
When I start to imagine what might be said in a relationship, which I know is not a competitive game even though it can be, I start to feel quite intensely what I would feel had those words been said. The residue and mental exhaustion that ensues is accompanied by a point of view that accepts that what’s been said is the truth.
If everyone I love goes away then I can not help but presume that those I love will go away too. I am constantly on the look out for warning signs that this is going to happen and it is no different tonight. The silence could be a sign of anything, it might have no meaning at all, but I automatically see it as a sign of doom and go through the pain of fear and dread without knowing anything for sure.
If silence might be golden or deadly it might also be nothing more than what it is, nothing, but when you’ve been damaged, even nothing doesn’t go unnoticed.
* * *
One day I was colouring in a picture with felt tips when one of the care workers told me that ink was poisonous. A few minutes later I ran to her screaming hysterically because I had put the ink end in to my mouth and thought I would die. She reassured me that I would survive. I can’t remember thinking about death before this time, I’m sure I probably did, but the notion of having to die one day didn’t fill me with dread, unless of course I was in the midst of perceiving I was just about to die, in which case there was a fair amount of panic. Possibly being made to go to church twice on a Sunday, and attend Sunday school pretty much softened the blow of realising that death might well be the last thing in a chain of meaningless events that we ever experience.
One of the churches we went to was a large traditional one. We had to sit quietly and I hardly have any memories of it except for the pile of cans of food, vegetables and bread that appeared at Harvest Festival. The other church was small and made of metal sheets, it had a tall, thin, greasy haired parson who spoke vehemently to his flock. Again I have no memories of what was said and really only remember the smaller pile of gifts on display for harvest festival. Religion for me between 5 and 7 was where we listened to stories, sang songs and gently avoided the issues that underpin the reason for religion existing in the first place, such as death, despair, and God knows what else.
The church though still underpinned this community. Most activities for kids took place in the church hall, the school was a church school, the community festivals were organised by the church and so on. Even where we lived was run by the church. But there was no escape, materialism, sex and violence were dominating factors in my little 6 year old world. I would lie in bed in the summer evenings, the bright sun blazing through thin flowery curtains, calculating how long it would take to save up 10 pence per week in order to buy a toy gun, or, when the coast was clear jumping in to bed with one of the girls for a quick cuddle and exploration, or when pushed, thinking up violent ways to get back at members of staff who’d unfairly “oppressed” me. So no change there then.
* * *
When I was 21 I found Jane, she’d been adopted by a family who came to the home to help out occasionally. At 21 she was working as a shop assistant in a department store, she was slightly overweight and seemingly happy, but she didn’t want to think about those times, in fact they were pretty much a blank to her.
We’d once sat on stage together and dressed up as the black and white minstrels and sang “If you were the only girl in the world”. In fact I mimed it – about a verse out of sync – and she gazed on lovingly in front of everyone in the Christmas Show at the church hall. She didn’t remember that. And then, like an old couple, we had bickered and fought – sometimes physically – we had hugged and played with each others bits, bathed, slept, and shared the pain of the oppressive regime. But to her it was a blank. I even told her how my bullying of her had filled me with guilt as I got older, but she couldn’t even remember the incident. Was it all a dream? Well the newspaper cutting of the singing on stage said not. The rest might be.
I had been naughty, and Sandra, one of the new helpers wasn’t having any of it. We were now at the point where the victim is strapped, metaphorically, to the bed and the evil angel of death is about to administer the death sentence, normally the removal of sweet rations. As if I’ve suddenly taken on James Bond’s persona I’m calculating just how hard and where exactly to deliver my own death kick.
“Don’t even think about it” Sandra warns.
“Fuck” I think, or at least I would have if I’d known the word.
“Great, a bloody mind reading Nazi… what next”? I think to myself
I turned over and sulked for ten minutes.
“Right if you’re going to play nicely you can come back in”
I wonder how often a child has actually waltzed back in to the room and said “Thank you, I can see your point of view and I’m genuinely sorry to have mucked you around, please don’t hesitate to scold me again if ever, and I hope it never comes to it, I am disobedient in anyway”.
Perhaps some genius sociopath managed it but for the rest of us mutterings under our breath normally suffices.
* * *
“If you don’t eat your dinner you’ll stay at the table ‘til you do”
She was new, but old. Grey but Indian, looked soft but was hard.
I don’t think I was a fussy eater but she’d deemed I had to be shown who was boss.
I cried as I placed the morsel of liver in my mouth.
She had won but for years later I didn’t eat the stuff. When I did I discovered I liked it.
There was a similar episode for bread pudding and a later one for swede.
Differentiating between a child genuinely not liking a certain food and just playing a power game is probably not so hard to determine. Perhaps this type of training helped British soldiers when it came to being tortured. Some people might say eating British food is good enough training in itself.
* * *
In the middle of the night, a light shines in my eyes.
“The doctor is here to see you”
Something hard digs in my ear
I scream out in pain
The taste of cough mixture
* * *
“At home my mother lets me watch Doctor Who”
“Well she shouldn’t”
“But it’s the last of the series”
“No “”Doctor Who”” Simon!”
The gardener’s dog, a golden retriever walks up to me. I hug it.
As I walk along the path there’s wool on the fence, left there by itchy sheep. I want to make a ball of wool from it and use it to find my way home.
I’m standing in Bill’s garden. – In real life Bill died a long time ago but his second wife continued living in the flat. I would visit her once every couple of years and every time I did it looked the same. Yellow flowery wall paper, brown smoked glass tableware and a glass topped table -. Scattered across the lawn of the garden, which is now slightly overgrown, are items from Bill’s life including a box full of board games. I decide that if these things are going to be thrown away I shall take some for my self. Three men pass by who start to look through the debris too. I find a photograph of Bill when he was young and tell them how I’d sit on his shoulders and stroke his hair. One of the men starts to cry and I cry too. I walk in to the flat where a woman startles me. I tell her she reminds me of Bill’s first wife, and she laughs at my lack of diplomacy because she is young and my comment suggests she looks older.
I realise that what looked like debris was actually valuable after all.
* * *
Roundshaw (Ring of trees) was a housing estate built on top of part of what had been the original London Airport (AKA Croydon Airport ). London is based in the centre of a naturally formed geological basin. The Thames flows through the middle of it. For those travelling to London from the North or South the sight of the city as they came over the rim of the basin was the view I could see as I stood outside our new flat for the first time. In the hazy distance St Paul ‘s Cathedral could be seen clearly.
Roundshaw, when I first saw it, shone in the bright summer sun. The concrete was still white. Roundshaw was a meeting of the past – the old airport, it’s runways still in place around our homes, the view of St Paul ‘s that so many travellers would have been encouraged, astounded, and frightened by -. For me it was saying goodbye to a life of living in care or staying at Gran’s to living with Mum and her new boyfriend.
My first visit ended with me and my friend Peter getting lost, Roundshaw was a true concrete jungle. We called for our mothers who heard our cries and called back so that eventually we became reunited. Encouraged, astounded and frightened Roundshaw welcomed me to a world where I would lose my dreams and my self.
End of chapter 10