Thursday, 27 August 2015

Older and adult foster children and birthday cards

One of the little sadness's of being fostered and having few, if any, family around is how few birthday cards you receive. It probably sounds horribly silly and trivial to normal people but it was an annual reminder that I was different from most folk.

When I was in foster care from 14 to 16 I used to get one card (plus a postal order) from my Dad's parents up in Yorkshire and one card (without a postal order!) from my Mum's sister who lived in Southern Rhodesia in Africa. My Mum didn't know where she was in time or space and as she was in a mental hospital anyway she couldn't pop out to the shops - so she had an excuse!

My foster parents probably should have brought me a present or at the very least a card but they didn't bother. That was how it was back then, many foster parents regarded their young visitors as little more than lodgers and not somebody to be cared for or nurtured. Because I didn't have a birthday party (or an event like 10-pin bowling) I tended not to get invited to other peoples celebrations.

When I timed out of foster care I moved in with the lovely Mrs H. She used to buy me a present and bake me a birthday cake and once I met Jane - who later became my wife - I started getting presents and cards from her as well. Jane's family were very good at remembering events like birthdays and for our whole time together we used to receive and send little gifts and cards. Jane used to write all the dates on the calendar we kept in the kitchen so nobody would be forgotten.

Now of course there aren't many people around who remember my birthday except when I was 60! - then lots did!

Friday, 21 August 2015

Settling down and starting to grow despite having no "roots".

It is strange when one half of a married couple has a family and the other doesn't! All the time I was growing up I didn't have much or any family around so having so many of Jane's family within 20 miles was something I had to quickly get used to.

When we moved to Wolverhampton 3 of her 4 grandparents were still alive. Only her Dad's Dad had died (on holiday and in his sleep). Her Mum and Dad were both working - Mum worked in personnel and her Dad in sales for a well-known brewery. Jane's sister and assorted aunts and uncles lived further east, the Birmingham direction.

1979 was the year when we managed to buy our first house. We paid £16,000 for it which doesn't sound like very much to young people today. Jane's Parents were very generous to us. They gave us £5,000 out of their savings to help us and I think the lady at the Building Society was impressed that a young couple like us had such a big deposit. We felt very proud and very grown-up when we moved into our own home.

The 1980s were very mixed for the two of us. We both did OK at work and we gradually moved up the career and salary scales but we had a bad run when every year for 5 years somebody important in Jane's family died. By the end of the 1980s all her grandparents had died and so had one of her aunts and her god-mother. We used to dread getting a phone call at an unusual time because quite often it was somebody calling us with bad news.

It was also during these years that we found out that it was very unlikely that we would ever have children of our own. We didn't try to have children for the first few years but once Jane came off the Pill nothing happened. Eventually we went to the Health Centre and a bit later we went to the local hospital for various tests but nobody could find out what was wrong. Perhaps nothing was and we were just unlucky?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Our wedding and moving to Wolverhampton (2)

After the reception and the honeymoon we started the final planning to move from St Albans to Wolverhampton. Jane's parents found us a rented flat about a mile from where they lived and they paid the first three months rent for us as part of our wedding present.

We had both given in our notice at the school in St Albans so once we had worked through that we were free to leave. We both were given good references and I think that helped us when we started looking for new jobs.

Saying goodbye to Mrs H was the hardest part. I had lived with her for about 7 years and I knew I would miss her friendship and her wise advice. I wrote to her every two weeks from the day I left St Albans until she died a few years later. It was quite a shock when I got a phone call from one of her neighbours with this sad news. Jane and I went to her funeral and I was one of the people allowed to carry her coffin into the crematorium chapel. It was nice that some of her former lodgers had been tracked down and that they were able to come to her funeral and the wake. I still think about Mrs H quite often and remember all the years and cups of tea we shared.

A friend of ours gave us a lift to Wolverhampton in a van he owned and he helped us unpack our few possessions into our new home. After a pub tea he drove off back to Hertfordshire and Jane and I started our new life together.

The first few weeks of job hunting were a total failure. We would leave the house about 8:00 AM and we spent the day visiting possible employers. We both wanted a change from what we had done in the past but without experience people just didn't want to take the risk. So in the end we only looked at catering (Jane) and school (me) jobs. By chance we both got a job the same day. I arrived home excited because I found a job only to find Jane bursting to tell me her good news before I could even speak!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Our wedding and moving to Wolverhampton (1)

1978 was a strange year. St Albans was one of most expensive places to buy a house in the whole country so there was no way that we would ever be able to afford one on the wages we were earning as a School Cook and as a Junior Technician. But the newspapers and people on the TV kept on saying that home ownership was something that all sensible people should do.

In the end we decided we would move to Wolverhampton - Jane's home town - where houses were much, much cheaper. She was keen to get back in her family's "good books" as they had been very unimpressed when she had moved south with her boyfriend and had then ended up getting engaged to somebody totally different.

I knew it was going to be difficult for me. All of my friends were in the St Albans area and so was Mrs H who I thought of as my second Mum. I didn't fancy moving to a place where I knew nobody and basically starting my life again. But I agreed to do it and in the end I came to realise that we had made the right decision.

But Jane and I insisted that we got married in St Albans. We did this so our friends could come to the wedding and so we could also use the reception to say our goodbyes. We looked at loads of venues and in the end settled for one that was more expensive than we could really afford. But they promised us so much we thought it would be worth it. What they promised and what we got were VERY different. Somehow they had misjudged the time needed to get the room ready after an event on the Friday evening (We got married on a Saturday). The whole room was grubby and smelling of stale beer and smoke and although the food was good and the cake excellent the venue was just so horrid and it was quite embarrassing asking guests to sit in such messy surroundings.

We didn't have a professional photographer so the pictures we were able to put together varied quite a bit in quality. We were sensible and we wrote all the names of the people appearing in each photo in the album so we didn't forget who they were. One or two people stayed in touch with me for a while but for most of them it was the last time we socialised. A few years later I was driving up Holywell Hill and one of my former friends "Jacko Jackson" was walking down on the other side of the road. I wonder if he ever worked out who hooted and waved at him?

Our honeymoon was 3 nights in Cambridge. It was warm and sunny every day so the weather matched our mood.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Life in foster care - part 2

The strangest thing about my time living in foster care was that we never did much as a family.

We had meals together at 7:30 AM, 1:00 PM (weekends and school holidays only) and 6:00 PM but it was a bit like living in a cheap Bed & Breakfast place and not much like living with people who cared about you. There was a 7 day rota for meals so I always knew what I was going to have to eat every single day. I can remember that on Sunday it was always a chicken, on Monday it was always cold chicken with boiled potatoes and on Friday it was always fish.

They had a car (a Vauxhall), but no garage, so it was always parked on the street outside their house. My Foster Dad used to car to go to his job in Luton but apart from that it was almost never used. I really truly cannot remember ever going anywhere in the car with them but I supposed I must have. In the evening when I finished my school work I usually went out to hang around with friends but sometimes I would sit with my foster parents and watch some TV in their front room. They had a colour TV with just 3 channels, BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.

If I wanted to go the cinema or to watch St Albans City or Luton Town play football I paid for myself and went on my own or with friends. It was never suggested that the three of us would go together or that they would pay for me. I don't think they ever went away, even for a single night, during all the time I lived with them.

But I don't want people to think that my foster parents were nasty or cruel. They were not. It was just the way it was when you went into foster care. It was a business to them, they were paid to look after me - not to look out for me. I used to get visited by a social worker. Sometimes at school and sometimes at my foster home. I never bothered complaining about things which meant their visits were short which is how I wanted them to be.

My foster parents only did fostering for 1 year after I had left. This had a girl for 12 months, I think she was called Toni. I heard that Toni was "too much" for them to cope with so she was moved somewhere else and they stopped doing fostering altogether.

They will both be dead and buried years ago so I cannot ask them for their memories of those days.