Simon Mark Smith’s Autobiography
Background politics tend to have a far greater affect than those which are on show for all to see. So it was with the choice of where I was to live next.
My mother lived in the suburbs of South West London, the hospital and nursery where I stayed were within 10 miles of her home so journeying to visit me on a daily basis was still practically possible, however my next residence was to be in the North Eastern suburbs of London.
What appeared at the time as the only option was, as I discovered many years later, part of a plan to get my mother as far away from me as possible. A social worker had taken a dislike to my mother and decided that it would be better for me not to be influenced by her. Her main reasoning included doubts over my mother’s ability to be honest due to her description of my father, which had been seen as incredulous, and a concern over er moral fibre given she’d had a child out of wedlock.
At two and a half years old I was moved to the Barnardo’s home in Woodford Bridge known as John Capel Hanbury ( JCH ). Instead of an hour long journey to visit me it would now take between 5 to 6 hours for each round trip. Instead of seeing her almost daily I would now see her at weekends or alternate weekends.
* * *
I have friends who have had childhoods which were far worse than mine. Yesterday I spoke to one who had been systematically sexually abused for 10 years from the age of 3, and when the abuse was discovered her parents turned on her for bringing the family’s name in to disrepute. My story is a mild one compared to many others but that’s my point. You don’t need a massive tragedy to bring you in to a world of instability, and you shouldn’t feel guilty because your past isn’t as bad as others even though your present is worse.
* * *
In 1987, soon after I’d got my first car and was looking for any excuse to drive it, I decided to go to the old Barnardo’s home I’d stayed in. I wasn’t quite sure of where it had been but eventually found a building that resembled it and had been converted in to a restaurant. It was winter and the sky was already darkening everything to a faded blue. I stood there feeling a bit tearful. Someone walked past so I asked them if they knew if this was the old Barnardo’s building. They said they used to work for Barnardo’s and the place I was talking about had been knocked down to make way for a housing estate. I wiped the tears from my eyes and drove home vowing to keep my sentimental outbursts to places which were definitely the right ones
* * *.
The John Capel Hanbury ( JCH ) “home” had originally been a hospital. It had large double fronted doors opening on to a main entrance hall with corridors going off either side leading to what were originally wards but had become either play, eating or sleeping areas. At the end of these dormitories were lounges, one of which had a television in it. To the front of the building was a large lawn with a drive way running up to the main entrance and to the right of the building an annexe had been added, which was where the school rooms and other mysterious places were.
The layout upstairs was similar. The corridor to the dormitory had a bathroom with light blue coloured walls. This colour haunted me later in life. When I walked my right foot was so twisted that most of my weight would be taken on the side of my big toe. The skin in that area would regularly blister, become hard and in time start to crack open. Not a pleasant thought I know. Every evening I’d be taken in to this room where surgical spirit would be applied to the cracks in the skin on my feet. The stinging sensation was quite painful and often I’d be dragged there screaming.
My mother often tells me I was happy when I was in JCH. My memory is that on the whole I was. The place was a meeting of Victorian values and flower power. The matron and her assistant walked around followed by their Labradors whilst most of the workers were long haired, mini skirt wearing hippies. The male versions had beards, but apart from that they looked similar bar the mini-skirts.
A few years ago I met up with one of my teachers from JCH and she showed me some photographs that she had from the time I was there. One of them was of her sitting in front of a small group of children, she was wearing a miniskirt and had her long slim legs curved around her. One of the children in front of her was me and the look on my face was one of awe. From my adolescence to early thirties I found I was drawn to leggy women with long dark hair, my mother on the other hand was blonde and voluptuous. So as I grew up I seemed to have a split idea of the type of women I was drawn to. I do realise that as a man I’m drawn to most women however I seem to have these two main types imprinted in my mind and both are imbued with different characteristics. For instance the voluptuous blonde type draws me in with her breasts and hour glass figure, but I carry a serious mistrust of her desire to be with me while the dark haired slim woman pulls me in with her dark eyes and beautiful face and is enigmatic from the outset, she is the unattainable, the object of unrequited love, the Siren. Both women dance around my issues of yearning and jealousy.
Dreams and reality – memories are made of this
One morning one of the hippie workers came to help me get up and ready for breakfast. I told her that this was a special day for me as I was going to have breakfast with the Matron. I said that after I was dressed I was to have my breakfast put on a tray and then proceed to the Matron’s quarters. So we did so. Standing at the Matron’s door I can remember the feeling of privilege and excitement, especially at the thought of being able to stroke her dogs, I loved animals. The matron opened her door in her dressing gown. That’s very relaxed I thought, how nice.
“What’s going on?” The Matron asked
“I’ve brought Simon down for breakfast” Said the hippie helper
Unfortunately it was the hippie helper who was to be had by the Matron for breakfast. “Don’t be ridiculous, we don’t have breakfast with the children, whatever next. Don’t be so foolish! You stupid girl”
I can remember feeling overwhelmed with shame as not only was my dream of an invitation just that, a dream, but I felt that I had betrayed this poor kind hearted girl. I started to cry. The Matron looked down at me and obviously felt some compassion because she the offered to let me come back later and give the dogs a dog biscuit each.
The divide, as any good philosopher will say, between dreams and reality is a thin one. So as I grew up and remembered incidents from this time in my life it would be hard to tell if they had been real or dreamt because both had the same feeling. It’s often said that as people approach the end of their lives they say their life feels like a dream. So here are a few memories which might be remembered dreams but probably are a mixture of both.
One day our long legged teacher took us on to the field at the back of the school. About four children and I sat on a grey tarpaulin. We pretended we were on a boat, well we did until I thought I’d try running on water and made a bolt for the corner of the field. I could hear Miss Parker, the leggy long haired brunette calling for me stop, but there was no looking back – I was committed to escape -. The fault in my bid for freedom lay in the fact that I had quite short legs unlike the gazelle like Miss Parker so my fate was very much sealed, but even in the face of certain failure there can be an overwhelming urge to laugh hysterically. Running, looking over my shoulder, laughing and seeing the ever approaching figure of Miss Parker, was this my father’s nature passing through me? 36 years later Miss Parker remembered this incident and we both laughed about it over a reuniting lunch. So that bit was real, unless we both dreamt it. Maybe being picked up and held close on the journey back to “the boat” made it all worth while, for both of us.
Back on the mat we watched a bull in the next field bucking and going a bit mad, we started to feel a bit agitated especially as some of us had bright red clothes on. We then watched an older child run in to the field and taunt the bull, which predictably decided to chase after him. The boy ran away unscathed. Now that bit might be real, it felt real, but when I asked Miss Parker about it she didn’t remember anything, but she was probably busy drawing up lesson plans for our next weeks study. So we’ll leave it as a possibility.
As we played on one of the others shouted “there’s a snake”. We turned around and I can remember seeing a small orange snake slip underneath the tarpaulin. We all jumped off and started to pull it up to see where it had gone but couldn’t see it anywhere. I can still see us looking at each other wondering if the snake was on one of us. I’m sure we all panicked and had Miss Parker sprinting to our rescue once again.
OK… I think I know a lot of you are going to think that this must have been a dream-addition, and it could be. In fact for many years I thought it must have been too. I mean how symbolic does one have to get, it was an orange snake for goodness sake? About a year ago though I came across something about an orange snake like worm in the UK on the Internet, and it was with this in mind that I started to question whether it might have been real after all. So the other night I attempted to track down the orange snake on the net but I couldn’t find anything that vaguely resembled what I remembered seeing. I began to wonder if, alas, it had been a dream after all. Then I had a Gestalt moment – I studied them in Teacher Training but I’m still not sure I understand what they are – instead of using the word “orange” I used “golden” and lo and behold a plethora of results came back. Apparently in the UK we have a lizard that has no legs, -a lizard with a disability, I like that – so it looks like a snake, but it’s known as a slow-worm. – Confused? – Anyway the young “ slow-worms are a golden colour with a black line”. Apparently the difference between a snake and a lizard without legs is that the lizard has eyelids, not that I’d want to be close enough to find out.
So was it a dream? The answer is I don’t know, but there’s certainly evidence to suggest it might not have been. In this instance it doesn’t really matter but my reason for making an issue of it is that our childhoods merge the worlds of dreams and memories of reality and we rarely question our past’s validity.
* * *
I was talking to one of my friends the other day and she was telling me about how when a new boyfriend told her he’d started to have deep feelings for her she could almost physically feel a wall between them appear in front of her. I said she may have some issues from her past that might be worth paying attention to. I knew her father had gone away when she was five and said that the incidents around her parent’s separation might have had an effect on her. “No I’m sorry” she said “but that’s just nonsense. It was the best thing that could have happened. They weren’t happy together. Anyway I can’t remember anything about my father.”
I said that the fact that she had no memories of him pre his leaving the family home could be significant and the words “It was the best thing that could have happened. They weren’t happy together” are not those of a five year old but of an adult, possibly her own mother or her self, attempting to make sense of the situation. The thing is that for many of us the memories that really have a profound effect on our present are not ones that we can visualise, or hear, but instead are often smells or memories of physical feelings we felt.
One of these “sensation memories” that I carried with me from a very early age would be one that would come to me as I tried to get to sleep. I would see a small spot in the distance hanging over me and it would feel as though it was approaching me slowly. At the same time I would feel as if a large object was bearing down upon me, smothering me whilst getting heavier and heavier. The feeling of fear that accompanied this sensation was almost unbearable and would often result in me getting out of bed and seeking out reassurance.
I can remember once waking up from this “dream” and sitting up in my bed in the dormitory at Barnardos. I could hear the night nurse snoring, her head rested upon her arms on the table. I walked up to her and tried to wake her but she didn’t stir so I went back to my bed listening to her snoring. As I tried to sleep I could hear a voice inside of me saying “the wolf, the wolf, the wolf” and it went on whispering these words to me. I was scared and wanted them to hush but they wouldn’t. I could also hear that I had words or thoughts going on below those words and a more controlled conversation going on above them. This internal chatter, perhaps it was a din I’d created as a reaction to the eternal silence I’d learned to fear.
That night I wasn’t brought to tears but instead to a feeling of being frozen in fear. Sitting on my bed I knew there was nowhere to run. The sensation of fear is one I know well now. It can range from a humming cold sweat to a shaking body, fast heartbeat, profound sweating, heavy arms, aching knees, tight throat, tense chest and a heavy hearted feeling. Even as an adult these feelings are hard to cope with but for a child they would have been impossible to bear. So firstly I believe I would have closed down my sensitivity to certain things, and distracted my self whenever painful feelings were about. Faced with a reality that’s difficult to deal with possibly induced a strong desire in me to enter the world of magic and fantasy. From an early time in my life the desire to escape reality, or at least certain aspects of it, was there.
If having one’s feet on the ground, and feeling grounded, are terms we use to describe being more in contact with what’s real, and the words “understand” and “understood” also point towards the sensation of being in contact with the ground then feeling light and high above the ground are metaphors that relate to being further from reality than might be good for us. I can remember having awful dreams where I would be blown in the wind and tossed around in the sky, I’d feel sick from the sensation of my stomach churning. I could sometimes tell that such a dream was just about to start and would feel utter dread. I’d try to wake myself up but I couldn’t. One idea I have as to why I had such dreams was that as I started to dislocate from reality, a part of me realised that I was taking myself in to a world where I couldn’t keep my feet on the ground and was trying to warn me of the consequences.
* * *
I have a clear memory of a woman with long dark hair helping me get dressed when I was about 4 years old. I asked her if she was a witch and she said she was. I asked her if she ever got together with other witches and she said she did. I then asked her if when they met up if they were naked and she said they were. I can remember getting quite sexually excited at this thought so I asked her if she could use her magic to make me small enough to fit in to a keyhole so I could watch them. I can’t remember what her reply was.
* * *
That friend of mine, the one I mentioned recently, who felt a wall appear between her and her new boyfriend as he proclaimed his love for her. I want to return to her because today I had been thinking about the pursuer distancer dynamic and how profound an effect it has on people’s relationships. Because of my past I tend to feel that I’m more prone to this dynamic however many people seem to suffer at the hands of it so I thought it worth a mention.
When two people get together it seems that the aim of their relationship is to relate to each other who they are as honestly as possible. It seems that most people I have ever dealt with find they are susceptible to the pursuer distancer dynamic. This is a dynamic where as soon as one person pursues or distances themselves in a relationship the other will react, almost involuntarily, by taking the opposite position. So if one person plays hard to get then the other one will become needier. Sadly this is a devastating dynamic because as soon as it comes in to play in any significant way then the relationship between both parties becomes almost completely stained by the dynamic itself. So in real terms neither party truly relate to each other anymore. The real relationship ends when the dynamic kicks in.
For my friend, the one with the wall, her feeling of relief of getting rid of her pursuer far outweighed the feeling of loss of someone who, up to that moment, had been a pleasure to be with. It’s as if the pursuer distancer part of her took her real self and cast it aside.
As I grew older I realised that many of my relationships became affected by my feelings from the past, but there are some dynamics which nearly all of us are prone to. Probably ever since humans have walked the earth they have been dealing with emotions that surround the notion of “romantic illusion”. Whether you see it in terms of biology or metaphysics deep down you’re likely to harbour a romantic illusion. This generally manifests itself in ideas about there being a soul mate, or someone with whom we can feel whole again. In other words a dreamy idea about relationships that bares little resemblance to what most of us experience in reality. There may be moments within relationships that have us feeling as if we are at one with our partners but whether these are real moments of “connection” or not they are not the general experience of “being together”.
In medieval times the notion of romantic love was set out clearly in stories that have been handed down throughout the ages and still echo through such modern day “classics” as Star Wars or Lord of The Rings. In our society the idea of having a good relationship has become the new religion. We are duty bound to feel we ought to be happily ensconced with someone else and through this relationship we will feel reconnected. Many of our films climax with a re-union that brings most of us to our knees, tears pouring down our faces, blubbering in the safety of a dark cinema. The word Religion is derived from words that mean “reconnected”. Even the prevalent idea at present of what happens to us when we die includes a moment of being drawn in to the light where we submit our individuality so that we can be reconnected to Love / God. When I was growing up there were slogans everywhere saying “God is Love” so I suppose it’s no surprise that there’s a bit of an overlap still.
For many people the reality of their primary relationships with their parents is a real one, but for me it was a romantic illusion. I didn’t know what it really felt like to be part of a family all I had was a dream. The problem with yearning for a dream is you can never satiate the yearning because the dream can’t ever be acquired.
* * *
One weekend when my mother wasn’t coming to see me a local policeman took me out for a drive in his car. It was known as a panda car possibly because it was painted in blocks of white and blue colour. Obviously there aren’t blue and white pandas but the police probably thought that associating themselves with pandas would be a good public relations exercise. I imagine the panda community must have been up in paws about it. Anyway I can clearly remember the policeman taking me on a journey and pulling up in a driveway to a house where he told me to wait in the car while he went inside and made some ice cream. I waited what seemed to be an interminable time and when he did come out the ice cream was a choc ice. Of course as a four year old one doesn’t question the local bobby but years later, well tonight actually, it struck me that he had probably entered the house in order to do a bit of undercover private investigations, searching out no doubt his own romantic illusion. Call me cynical if you must.
* * *
It would be hard to get across to you the sense of family that existed between me and some of the other children who I stayed with during this period because I have so few stories that I really remember, but I can remember there being a bond between us.
I’m not sure how much this says of the human race but my first memory of group hysterical laughter was around the breakfast table when a small blond haired girl – possibly called Paula – farted and I said it was an “eggy”. All of us had tears rolling down our cheeks. I guess at four or five years old it’s ok to be immature but I’m sad to say that even last night I was laughing hysterically as I did an impression of someone who had lost their ability to focus on what they were trying to say as they breathed in somebody else’s wind. Those of you who have matured beyond such airy humour I salute you.
* * *
Lee-Roy, was black and walked with a limp, in fact we both did, but one day there was a summer storm which he and I got caught in on the front lawn. We decided to dance around in a circle while the warm rain fell upon us and the staff called us from the main entrance. We ignored them and they didn’t want to get wet so we played in the rain for ages.
Perhaps my desire to do an African dance was motivated by an idea I had that my father was South African. I didn’t know what this meant so any association with Africa became significant to me. One day my mother and I were on a tube train together and a black man was sitting opposite me. I looked at him and asked “excuse me but are you my daddy?” I’m not sure how long the gap was between me saying that and my mother tapping me and snapping “of course not” but I’d say it was pretty fast given her normal laid back reaction to things. The man laughed and said “I don’t think so. I think I would have remembered you if I was”.
“Thank you” I thought “at least someone around here can deal with a simple question”.
The lack of having a father was obviously already playing a significant role in my mind even at such an early age. Just watching a group of contortionists on television who had come from South Africa had me getting my body in to all kinds of small places for years afterwards. I have managed to stop myself nowadays but sometimes seeing a small suitcase does get me a little excited.
* * *
Hello Cruel World
As the song goes, there is “a time to kill”, and today was one of them. The air was dry hot, we had prepared our weapons, gone through the plan and worked out what to do if it went wrong. David, who was heading the first strike, laughed and said “run and keep running”. I hate running.
The only way in was through our enemy’s own, well guarded entrance. Our main strength was daring, and a lethal combination of nerve gases. David crept up quietly while I kept watch. They didn’t even see him place the nozzle of the gas pipe in position. He released the trigger and gas poured in.
We are talking seconds from when he hit the trigger to when the first soldier tumbled out of the mouth of the entrance and down to the ground. David almost escaped unharmed but this first one took a swipe at the back of his leg. I wanted to shout “watch it!” but I didn’t want to direct attention my way, it was too late though as he nicked the back of David’s thigh with his weapon. David kicked him and as the little bastard started to writhe around in silent agony.
We both retreated to a safer position to watch the results of our work. One by one they staggered out of the entrance, white specks appeared around their faces, as they blindly followed the source of fresh air, but more gas hit them so by the time they got to the entrance they just dropped, hit the ground, their bodies in convulsions, and within minutes were dead.
I’d like to tell you that I felt some pity or sadness for them but I didn’t. One of their kind if they can be called kind, had hurt me as a child, and another had ruined a meal out one night. From early childhood I was indoctrinated to hate them and throughout my lifetime they conformed to my stereotypical view of them. I can’t help it but I hate wasps. Call me a species-ist if you like.
The other night I had left the light on in the kitchen and the window wasn’t closed properly. Later on I noticed about 20 wasps walking forlornly across the floor. The redundant wasp’s nest I’d seen in the attic last December now had a new one next to it. I’m going to have builders do a loft conversion soon so I thought it best to get rid of the wasps before I got in to a situation of a load of them running away from the job in panic.
I got the local pest controller around, David, and we set to work. I don’t know how we got around to talking about his sexual preference but we did and it turned out he is a sadomasochistic domination and bondage master. He even has his own website. I could see by the way he enjoyed killing the wasps, and didn’t complain too much about being stung that this was obviously the job for him. I have to admit I too enjoyed watching them die, but I don’t need to get dressed up in leather or rubber to do so.
* * *
It’s well known that much of our humour is based around cruelty, – when a monkey smiles it’s a teeth showing sign of aggression – and I’m the first to admit to a very dark streak of cruel humour, but I still try my best not to hurt people’s feelings when making jokes, in other words I do it behind their back.
When people are confronted with a difficult situation they tend to deal with it through humour. Sometimes when faced with a person who looks different, like my self, people cope by making a joke. I tend to forgive people this trespass within certain limitations but it was not always so, at first I followed a zero tolerance policy.
Near to JCH there was a local infant’s school. One day I was invited to attend it. I don’t remember much except during the break time a group of children surrounded me and started calling me Captain Hook because I was wearing artificial arms with hooks on the ends of them. I don’t remember exactly what I felt but there was a feeling of claustrophobia and wanting them to stop laughing at me. I swung my arm toward one of the children who dropped to the ground and started screaming. The other children fell silent.
I don’t remember being invited back to that school for a while. The experiment had not gone as hoped for. But I had learned a valuable lesson, and that was violence can be an answer even if it isn’t the right one.
* * *
During the Easter and summer holidays we would be taken to the East Coast – probably Clacton – for a week. My enduring memories of staying here are linked to dangerous animals. When the tide went out sometimes hundreds of stranded jelly fish would cover the beach. Then there would also be the crabs – I can even remember a dream of a crab chasing after our minibus (I’m almost definite that was a dream) -, and lastly there were the wasps and bumblebees. I think a wasp stung me, but one of the hippie helpers told me I hadn’t been stung and I was inclined to believe her as she had such a pretty face.
When the hippie helpers took us it was like being part of a 60’s genre film such as “Easy Rider”, it was camp fire cooked food on the beach, playing guitars, singing songs, and waking up with long haired men and women sleeping on the floor of the guest house. A man let me sip his extra sugared black coffee one morning even though his girlfriend told him I was too young to be drinking it. I still love it that way today.
Even the berries that had fallen along the pathway from our hotel to the beach were poisonous but at least the blossom wasn’t, but that didn’t taste too good.
* * *
As I moved in to my fifth year the world had shown me that it was dangerous and people could be cruel too. While I wasn’t totally abandoned I did know that for much of the time I’d have to cope without family support. I had learned that one way to silence it was to strike out at and scare or destroy what seemed to be a threat The rush of anger and the feeling of control when what hurt was stopped was a powerful sensation and it would be many years before I learned that understanding could be a more creative means of dealing with it. But even now I get flashes of fury.
Last night a man in a car drove at me on a roundabout so I made sure I didn’t give way to his aggression and then pulled up inviting him to have a confrontation with me. His forcefulness had nothing to do with me until I let it become personal. Whether it’s something in some people biologically that makes them aggressive, or it’s sociological, or related to childhood experiences I don’t know, but I can tell you that not far below the surface lies a deep rage inside of me, especially towards any peer trying to get one over me or a wasp trying to sting me.
* * *
At five years old I was moved in to a more formal class setting. I sat near the front of the class and could feel the hot sunlight upon my face through the glass. I noticed a reflection of the sun on my artificial arm’s hook. I put it up close to my eye so I could see in to the reflection and what I saw looked like a field of grass. While the teacher spoke his words became distant as I drifted in to this green and pleasant landscape. At the same time a small piece of nylon string used to help my hook open and close, like a crab’s claw, touched my face. As I moved it stroked me and as it did so I moved further in to a world of sensuous pleasure.
If the people I had depended on could not be with me then at least during the gaps I would have to provide my own comfort and escape.
Within the “self-help” community there seems to be a bit of a consensus on the issue of being happy in one’s own company and a further emphasis on being independent but in reality we are all generally very much dependent on each other. I prefer to accept that I am dependent on others and when it comes to who I choose to be dependent on emotionally my task is to try to find people I can trust to be safely dependent on. I’m not a loner and I prefer to live with somebody – obviously not just anyone but somebody I love – but I learned to be on my own at a very early age. When I was in care I had other children to play with but I also spent time alone and when I was at home, with my mother, I didn’t have any siblings so I felt like an only child. Perhaps I like having someone else living with me because I had too much time alone, but in many other cultures people tend to live in “family houses” far more than we do. In order to deal with being alone I tend to keep myself busy either doing things or seeing people.
My preoccupations as an adult are not much different to those I had as a child. In JCH there was a play room which we’d be put in for a treat or a punishment I can’t quite remember which. It was probably a mixture. Something like “Come on Simon it’s your turn to go in to the play room… right that’s one kid I don’t have to play with, Great!” a bit like the way we put our kids in front of the TV or on computer games. It’s a win win or lose lose situation depending on how you want to see it.
So sitting in the play room my first port of call was the record player. This was one of those old fashioned wind up ones. This was my initial in road in to music technology. I have been using computers to make music for the last 15 years, and I’ve loved playing music and have been interested in Hifi equipment all my life. While I’d sit listening to the old record player I’d watch dust moving through the beams of sunlight pouring through the gaps in the curtains. I had my own audio visual show going on in there.
My interest in the visual arts started very early. I was painting from before I can remember and at 4 years old I won a national painting competition with a painting called “Mummy and Me”. I even got a spot on the national news. I was being asked about the painting but all I wanted to talk about was a toy aeroplane I’d just got which could be swung around in a circle and “would actually fly”. Even then I was unable to tell a story without going off on a tangent. Even if it was about a toy that couldn’t. – See I did it again!-
Away from the playroom were other areas of interest. There was a small hut type house outside, this I see as the start of my interest in property development. There was also an old wreck of a car we’d play on, yep you’ve guessed it I like cars. We also had a sandpit, but apart from going to the beach and occasionally building sand sculptures I don’t think it had a profound influence. So there you have it my passions as an adult were pretty much mapped out by the age of 5.
When I started this chapter the issue in my mind was that of seeing the truth behind something, to understand what other factors come into play in our relationships that stop us from relating honestly with one another. I started by mentioning the politics of the public persona being somewhat at the mercy of backroom ones.
From the outset the term “care” was a paradox and used to define the nature of where I lived but the kind of care that I yearned for was not likely to be found there. The institutional environment was set out with rules that were supposed to be of benefit to the children but their real needs were ignored because to deal with them, their need for love, affection and tenderness could not be easily given. From the outset there was a discrepancy between the meaning of people’s words and actions and to be a victim to this can result in a feeling of mistrust of what people say.
Throughout my life I have experienced the contradiction of “care”. Sometimes it can be with the best intentions that people offer help but their approach can be so wrapped up in what they perceive as caring that what is offered feels uncaring. What I learned from this was that the first step in caring for someone is to try to find out what their needs and wants are. I would often have people inventing adaptations for me to use which not only were not functionally of any benefit but were not necessary in the first place as I had found ways to do the thing anyway. Even at five years old a non-hippie helper saw that I had a very runny nose as a result of hay fever. Within minutes she’d tied a load of tissues together then made them in to a kind of necklace that went round the back of my head then across my face and under my nose. She then got some sticky tape to hold it place. When the Matron saw this I can clearly remember her ordering me to take it off –I almost thought about bursting in to tears to see if I could get another bone feeding treat with the Labradors but thought better of it. – I can quite clearly remember her saying under her breath that something had to be “done about that woman”. Needless to say it was a time before unfair dismissal was around and the non-hippie inventor was not seen again.
As I said this experience of being offered aids and adaptations continued throughout my life, some as we shall see later really did have some devastating results. I grew up with a serious mistrust of any adaptation being offered and aimed for a life where I barely relied on any piece of equipment to help me. When people ask if my car’s been adapted I say yes “I’ve just had an extremely loud and expensive stereo installed”.
Of course the sense of things not being as they seemed came from my relationship with my mother, possibly before I ever arrived at Jch . The big discrepancy was one that a child can see from only one perspective, and that is their own. In my heart I could not understand how if my mother loved me as much as she said she did then how could she leave me alone in this place. One winter evening I clearly remember waving goodbye to my mother from a fire escape. She was crying whilst she waved goodbye and I was sobbing uncontrollably. The care worker who was with me told me to come inside and to stop crying, that my mother would be back next week and if I stopped crying I could stay up and watch a cowboy program on television. I stifled my tears and went inside. The next day someone gave me a toy tractor as a consolation prize but the plastic it was made of smelt awful. I informed someone else and they told me not to be ungrateful. I was invited to enter the world of lies. In fact there was little option, so from then on I could only be a part time saint. Even now I hate the thought of people close to me lying. I have a line from one of my songs which states: “You may say it’s a problem I’ve got but I’d rather be hated for who I am than loved for who I am not”. I once asked Monica what she thought of white lies. She said “They are neither good nor bad. They are essential”. But to hear that unnerved me because I’d rather have an argument than deal with a lie.
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One day a whole group of children and helpers sat out on the lawn and podded peas. I found a pea with a maggot in it and from then on for the next year or so squashed every pea on my plate before eating it to check it was maggot free. A year ago I got ill after eating some grilled sardines which I loved up until that evening, from then on even the smell made me feel a little nauseas. You probably have had similar experiences. My point is that I have heard people doubt whether childhood experiences have the effect people claim they do, but for me if just a single incident can affect us – even in adulthood – then it’s not so hard to believe that repeated trauma in childhood can be profoundly damaging.
JCH was on the whole imbued with a pleasant memory for me, but the next care I would go to live in was not. My last memory of JCH was rather filmic. A whole group of children and workers came to send me off. As we pulled away I waved goodbye through the back window to them all the while they waved and shouted “Goodbye Simon”. As we turned the corner they were gone. The woman next to me told me to sit down, and if I stopped crying she’d take me to eat fish and chips as a treat. I sat down and just like in one of those creepy thriller movies the social worker who unbeknown to me at the time wanted me away from my mother, put her arm around me and told me not to worry.
End of chapter 8