Saturday, 31 October 2015

My last day living with my foster parents in St Albans

Sometimes I think that my memory is starting to fail me because I cannot always remember the order in which different events happened during my years as a teenager in Care!

On my last day at school I was interviewed by the Head Master. All the people who were leaving the school at the end of year 11 (we called it the 5th form in my school days) were interviewed. Most of the leavers were pupils the school wanted to get rid of or were pupils who were not clever enough to stay on at school. I was a bit of a special case partly because I was in Foster Care and partly because the only reason I was leaving the school was because I didn't have the money to stay there any longer. I was seen last of all the leavers and I remember having to wait for ages for my turn.

I can remember my last day at the foster home. I have a picture in my mind of me lying in my bed on that morning with my old brown suitcase already packed and two open bags waiting for the last few items to be put in them. I heard my foster parents getting up and using the bathroom and toilet and then it was my turn to get washed and dressed and to go downstairs for my breakfast.

It seemed funny that neither of them said anything about it being my final day and even stranger that my Foster-Dad didn't offer to give me a lift in his car to my new lodgings. Anyway he didn't so after breakfast I finished my packing and then walked up the hill to my new home carrying the suitcase and one bag. I left them with my new landlady Mrs H and then went back to collect the second bag. Strangely neither of my foster parents were in the house when I got back there so I let myself in, picked up my bag and left the house for the last time: remembering to post my front door key through the letterbox!

And that is how aged 16 I left Care and became - so I thought - a "proper grown-up"!

I only saw my foster parents a few times after I moved out. Once was when the postcard with my O level exam results were sent to their address so I had to walk down to collect it and just a couple of times I bumped into my Foster-Mother while I was shopping in St Albans.

"We are the Oak Road Boot Boys"

I saw, but sadly I wasn't close enough to speak to him, my Foster-Dad standing at the Oak Road End of Luton Town FC in about 1973 or 1974. That was the last time I saw either of them and I expect that they have both been dead for a while now. I wonder if they ever thought about me in their later years?

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Starting the hunt for other fostered children

About a year after I moved in with Mrs H I happened to see an article on fostering in a magazine in the dentist's waiting room. I wrote to the magazine asking them to forward a letter to the author of the article and as I didn't really expect them to bother it was a nice surprise when I got a long letter back.

The lady author was a former foster child like me although she was a bit older. It felt like we had quite a lot in common when she said how much she wanted to meet with other people who had been fostered and how lonely and isolated she sometimes felt. She mentioned a few ways she had tried to find young people who had shared similar experiences to her and how unsuccessful her attempts had been.

I wrote back almost straight away and then I waited and waited for a reply but one never came. I felt quite sad that she didn't want to have me as a pen friend but of course I couldn't force her to write to me could I?

A few months later I wrote to the Herts Advertiser (the local newspaper) asking readers if they knew of any organisation that people like me could join. Of course the newspaper used to get lots of letters and mine wasn't one of the ones selected to be published so that idea didn't work either. There was then a short gap until I tried again. I was in Harpenden one Saturday seeing a friend and I visited the public library. I asked a very stern lady in the reference section for help but she didn't seem very bothered about helping me and within a couple of minutes she wondered off to support somebody else.

After that I gave up looking - I have written an earlier blog entry about Mike who was fostered and who became my very best friend - but apart from him all my attempts were failures. It wasn't until decades later, after Jane had died, that I tried again. One day I will write about all the wonderful things that led to.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Death and the foster child

I ended up in foster care because my Father died when I was little and then a while later my Mother got too ill to look after me. I'm guessing a bit here but I wonder if what happened to me also happened to quite a few children who ended up in foster care because a parent or parents died and there was nobody left in the family prepared to look after them. I wondered at the time why my Father's parents never offered me a home but perhaps they thought they were too old to take on the responsibility?

I don't remember my Father dying but of course I do remember getting a phone message from the hospital to say that my Mother had died. That was in 1977 so she had lived in the hospital for about 8 years. She had long since forgotten who I was and I think that made it easier for me not to mourn too much. I didn't, and still don't, believe in Heaven and Hell like some people do but I would like to think that Mother would have been made well again and that she would have been reunited with my Father.

Perhaps they are waiting somewhere for me to join them?

In 1977 I was still living with Mrs H and I was engaged to Jane. It was a happy time for me and I didn't let my Mother dying spoil things too much. It was far, far worse when Mrs H died in her sleep. That was nearly a decade later. I had stayed in touch with Mrs H all that time and I thought of her as the closest thing I had to a proper Mother. When she died it was one of the very few times I cried as a grown-up.

It was over 20 years more to the biggest shock of all when my dear wife Jane died from heart disease. The last year or two of her life had been very difficult. She kept working almost to the end and I don't think her employer ever realised how poorly Jane was. Jane had been my anchor. I hadn't got any family ties of my own so as far as possible Jane's family became my family.

When Jane died her family kept in touch quite well for the first few months but gradually the number of invitations I got to family event went down. What they didn't do enough of was actually helping me with all the jobs that needed to be completed when somebody dies.

It was a lonely and sad time for me and it was only having young people around me at the school where I worked that gave me the kick to get up in the morning and to put a brave face on things. Not having children of my own to share the sadness of Jane dying was a heavy burden to carry!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Family history and the foster child

I went into foster care when I was 14 and my foster parents had no particular interest in my family history. They knew that my Father was dead and that my Mother was in a local mental hospital and that was about as far as their knowledge went. They never encouraged me to talk about my family but if I did happen to mention something they at least seemed to be interested so it wasn't too much of a problem for me. In the early days I used to go to visit my Mother in the hospital most weeks and when I got back to my foster home my foster parents always asked me, "How was your Mother this week?" So they were not cruel or unthinking towards me: just rather casual.

It was the same, just in reverse, with my foster parent's own family history. I don't remember anything being said about their lives before I had arrived on the scene. There were a few photos around but the earliest one was one of their wedding and was a picture of just the two of them signing a book with the vicar standing behind them. I don't remember seeing any photos with the rest of the guests so I don't know what type of wedding they had. At the age I was I wasn't old enough or sensible enough to appear interested in things like that so I don't think that I ever asked questions about their family.

It wasn't until I moved out of foster care at 16 and into lodgings that I met somebody who was interested in my background. Mrs H was a good talker and a good listener as well and over the years that I lived in her house we gradually found out more and more about each other. It made a big difference to think that somebody wanted to know about me and that I mattered to someone. This feeling of not mattering and not belonging to part of a bigger group is one of the things that has been a problem for me for almost as long as I can remember.

After I married Jane and we had moved to Wolverhampton I gradually met her quite large family. Some of them, mainly the older ones, were quite nosey about my background and it was quite difficult knowing how much to say about private things like my Mother's illness. Jane's family had all sorts of family feuds involving some members falling out with other members about really minor things. I used to think that they didn't appreciate how lucky they were to have family alive and living close by!

From what I have found out since I started writing this blog a lot more time and trouble is now given to the family history of the young person going into foster care. I'm very glad about that.

Friday, 2 October 2015

The Harpenden years - before the fostering storm clouds gathered

I don't remember much of my first few years in St Albans and my first clear memories seem to be just before I started school after we had moved 5 miles north to Harpenden. Although I didn't realise it at the time we moved there because our previous home in St Albans had too many sad memories for Mum to cope with.

Mum needed to work lots of hours to pay the bills. At different times she worked at Woolworth, Boots and J S Sainsbury which I seem to remember were almost, if not actually, next door to each other on Harpenden High Street. On "Early Closing Day" she worked for a few hours as a cleaner at a large house on Station Road Harpenden.

Because of the hours she worked she had to make arrangements with other people to get me to school. There was a lady who lived quite near us - we were living near the old Harpenden East railway station - that Mum was friendly with. So after breakfast Mum walked me round there and her friend used to walk me and her own daughter to school. I think that went on for about a year and a half. Mum decided then that I was old enough to manage on my own. There were not any busy roads to cross so this wasn't quite as dangerous as it sounds!

After school I used to walk home and let myself in the back door using the key hidden in the garden. I would play in my bedroom and then I would watch Children's Hour and eat the sandwiches Mum had prepared for me and wait patiently for her to come home. I think this used to be about 5:45PM.

I was quite happy at school and never got into real trouble. I was in the A stream and I can remember Mum being quite proud about that.

School holidays were a problem. Mum couldn't afford not to work so I was left on my own all day. The old lady next door kept an eye on me, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. I was quite happy either playing with friends or on my own and I didn't realise until much later that Mum was probably breaking all sorts of rules by leaving me unsupervised.

I was sad when Mum said we were moving back to St Albans. I had lots of friends in Harpenden and when we moved house I never saw most of them again. In the summer of 1966 we moved into a small rented house just off Holywell Hill, just in time for me to start secondary school.

I never guessed that I was soon to become a foster child!