Friday, 27 November 2015

My first week as a foster child in St Albans - Part 1

It is strange how some days stick in your memory right through your life. I will always remember my first few days in foster care with a mixture of sadness and puzzlement. When Mum had to go into hospital I was told I was going to a foster family "for a few weeks". Neither of these things I was told was true, or at least not true in the mind of a 14 year old boy.

My new Foster Mum and Dad didn't have any children so to me they were not a proper family at all. Looking back over 40 years later I still think it was a bit strange that the first time I ever met my Foster Parents was when I arrived at their front door with my social-worker in tow. I had been waiting around all day for all the arrangements to be sorted out - the biggest delay was caused by the social worker wanting both adults to be there when I arrived and my Foster Dad not wanting to lose a days pay.

My bedroom was fine. It was clean and warm and there was a decent desk there where I supposed to do my school work in the evening. That was a good start but when we went back downstairs I noticed something very curious. The lounge was at the front of the house and it contained a large and very ornate sideboard, the television and two single arm-chairs. That's right when I first arrived there wasn't a chair for me to sit on!

The dining room at the back of the house had a table with four chairs and the four of us (me, 2 Foster Parents and the Social Worker) sat there talking for what seemed like ages. I kept expecting her to say something to my Foster Parents about needing to buy another comfortable chair for the lounge but she didn't and I was too shy to say anything.

When the Social Worker left it was all very difficult. I didn't know what the house rules were or even what I was to call my Foster Parents. It didn't take long before I realised that the whole fostering project was my Foster Mother's idea and that my Foster Dad had no interest in any part of what was going on.

That first evening was horrible and very unfair on me. After tea I helped wash up like I always used to do when I was living with my Mum but then I had no idea what I was supposed to do. The two of them sat in the lounge watching the TV and I didn't know if I was allowed to go in to sit with them or not and anyway if I was allowed to go in where would I sit? On the floor like a dog would?

So I went upstairs and read a book in my bedroom feeling rather lonely and abandoned.

About three days later a different (more senior?) Social Worker came round to see how I was getting on. We sat in her car so my Foster Mother couldn't hear what I was saying. I tried to be brave but I was so sad and disappointed that I wasn't living like a member of a family at all and that living there reminded me of a horrible Bed and Breakfast place that Mum and I had once stayed at in Cromer. I don't know what was said or when but within 48 hours another comfortable chair had arrived and my Foster Mother started trying a bit harder to make me feel welcome.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Adventures on the Harpenden and St Albans buses (321 and 355)

I have many fond memories of travelling on the 321 bus between St Albans and Harpenden. After Dad died we didn't have (couldn't afford) a car so the bus was our main means of transport. The shops in Harpenden were quite limited, especially for families like us where money was tight so the trip to St Albans market was a regular event. One time I remember really well was when I had a hospital appointment at the St Albans Hospital (Mid Herts Wing). We wanted to travel from Harpenden to St Albans between 8 and 9 in the morning but the busses had loads of school children going to the secondary schools. We had to wait quite a long time before there was a bus with any space for us.    

A few years later, after Mum had died as well and I was in foster care in St Albans, I did some trips between St Albans and Harpenden on the 355 route. This was when I was going to see a young lady friend who lived in Batford. Her Dad worked at the same small engineering works that I did and for some reason he thought that I would be a good influence of her. Sheila was her name and although we became quite good friends for almost a year it was only a friendship - nothing more. There was nothing romantic in our relationship.

Sheila's Mother was very strange. She didn't like me or trust me not to get her daughter into trouble so she used to chaperone us all the time. When the dog wanted a walk she wouldn't leave us alone in the house so we had to go with her. We used to cross over the little bridge at the bottom of Crabtree Lane (where the ford was, and still is?). We would walk up the hill, along Grasmere Avenue, down Granby Avenue then along Marquis Lane to cross over the road bridge over the River Lea. I still remember it quite well. Some the houses we passed were quite posh and it all seemed like a different world to the Batford Council Estate that was just a few hundred yards away.

The 355 was always a  single decker bus because of the low bridge where the railway crossed over Station Road. Sometimes it was almost full and sometimes almost empty for reasons that were never obvious to a youngster like me.

In the end Sheila's Dad changed jobs and I felt safe to end a relationship that was never going anywhere. It was done properly - face-to-face and not by email or text like youngsters seem to do now.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Christmas and Birthday celebrations before and after fostering

My first Christmas in foster care in St Albans was a real shock to me and I think was the only time I cried from sadness and disappointment during those two years. Mum and I used to make a real effort at Christmas time and we used to have a large Christmas tree and we used to give each other nice presents. I used to make things during the lunch hours in the Craft Room at school and with a bit of help from the teacher and the technician I was able to make things that looked really expensive but that were actually not too dear at all.

My foster parents only had a small tree and my present from them was a cheap wallet. And that was all. They gave that to me at breakfast so during the morning I kept thinking that they would give me something else after lunch - but they didn't. I felt so sad that Christmas was never going to be how it had been before Mum got ill that I went up to my room and cried. It didn't help of course and so I never did it again.

Most of my pals were busy with family for the days around Christmas so I got bored. My foster parents never made me feel particular welcome in the lounge where the TV was so I would leave the house and just wonder around in the park. I felt quite lonely and left out - I was almost starting to want the school term to start so I would have more people to talk to!

After Christmas my social worker, unusually, visited me at school. She asked me about my Christmas and I told her the truth about what had happened. I think she was quite surprised because she had already told my foster parents off for ignoring my birthday a few months earlier. Anyway she then went back to my foster parents and they must have had a big row because when I got home my Foster Mum had red eyes and looked quite embarrassed. My second birthday and second Christmas in Care were a bit better so whatever the social worker said must have worked.

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.

It is funny how things improved so much and so quickly once I left foster care and started living with Mrs H.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The lies that are told to foster children

When I was told that my Mother was going to have to go into hospital "for a few weeks" I believed what I was told. Why shouldn't I? I was only 14 years old and even I had started to notice that she wasn't well. Nothing was said to make me believe that my time in foster care was going to be anything more than a few weeks duration and I was happy to pay that price if it meant she could receive the treatment she needed.

But I soon realised that I hadn't been told the truth. Of course I had no medical training whatsoever but even I could tell that each time I visited the hospital she was worse than the time before. She wasn't making any progress that I could see and there didn't seem to be anybody at the hospital who could answer my questions.

After about a month I began to notice that she didn't immediately recognise me when I visited her and that her memories of our life together after my Father had died were slowly but steadily disappearing from her mind. I can remember being quite frightened - I didn't know what to do or who to ask for help. All my foster parents used to say was that, "The doctor's know what they are doing."

I started taking in photographs of important events from her life. Things like the photo taken when she got engaged and the photos of her wedding. But soon she would just glance at them in the way you might look at the photos of somebody you didn't know. I used to tell her who all the people were but she didn't seem either interested or bothered.

I feel quite ashamed now but once she didn't recognise me it didn't seem worth visiting her every week and gradually my visits became once a fortnight and then once a month. I was getting used to living with my foster parents and in my heart I think I knew that Mum was never going to be well enough to come home. I was also getting old enough to start planning my own life and common sense told me that it wasn't going to involve her however much I wanted it to.

My home - that was another set of lies I was told. The little rented house we used to live in wasn't that far from my foster home and as I still had my key I was able to get in. Quite suddenly somebody decided that it wasn't going to be our home any longer and everything that we owned that was still in the house was packed up and sent to my paternal grandparents in Yorkshire. I wasn't told this of course - I was told that it had been put into storage locally and I could have it all back when Mum was better.

The months and then the years drifted past but nobody seemed bothered about telling me the whole truth - they just let me work it out for myself. Mum lasted 8 years in the hospital and it was only after she died that I found out what had been wrong with her. It was also then when the boxes containing so much of our life together were returned to me.

I have been worried about telling this part of my life history. But I have told it as I remember it. Perhaps the social workers and my foster parents hadn't been told the truth either. I'm guessing that I will never know the complete story now but it seems strange that a few weeks in hospital became 8 years.