It was on top of Bardon Hill that we found lots of wild raspberries. I had never liked raspberries, but I tried a few and found them quite pleasant. It got me to thinking why I had avoided them for my entire life.
I was just seven the first time that I was taken away from home. Two women took me and pushed me and my younger brother Ted into a car and drove us away. Ted was dropped off somewhere, I never discovered where, and I was taken to a children’s home. There were no goodbyes, no explanations and no kind words. The women had a job to do and any resistance was met with more forceful handling. I was thinking of a newish and tiny sister who had disappeared and who I never saw again. I’ve always thought that her disappearance had something to do with our being taken away from home. I don’t even know her name, but overheard occasional snippets of conversation in later years suggested to me that she had died.
Why was it happening? I don’t know. Even now I don’t know. I assume that Dad was banged up for some felony or other and that Mum was unable to cope.
We got to the children’s home about seven o’clock, where I was handed over to a tall man I later discovered to be houseparent. The women and the houseparent exchanged a few words and the women left without a word to me nor even a look. It was past teatime and so, with nothing to eat so I was escorted to ‘my place’ in the dormitory. I was undressed, put into some pyjamas and put to bed.
In bed I lay sobbing. You learned to control your crying after a while but you never completely broke the habit of crying yourself to sleep.
All the other boys in the dormitory knew what was going to happen and they were watching. How do I know they were watching? I learned, as they had before me, that whenever a new boy was admitted we would probably be left alone that night, so we watched.
It was not long before another houseparent came to my bed and carried me to a room along the corridor. Some houseparents were on night duty and stayed awake. Some would sleep over and only be awakened if there was an incident to be dealt with.
The first time, you didn’t struggle, not knowing what was going to happen to you. The second time you struggled hard and put up a fight. The third and subsequent times you knew better than to struggle.
What happened that first night was painful, frightening, dehumanising, disgusting and what some men in authority believed they had the right to do with insignificant children in their charge.
The second time, you knew what was going to happen and you did what all boys did the second time. You fought and you struggled and you screamed.
The houseparents expected it and were prepared. You were quickly subdued by the application of a damp towel around your neck which was tightened until you lost consciousness. I’ve come across the same technique used in other children’s homes, the old mental hospitals and in prisons. It is effective and leaved no marks or bruises, which was essential if the victim happened to die.
On the first morning I was dragged to the bathroom and bathed, having wet the bed. Bedwetting in a children’s home was very common. I was given a toothbrush and some toothpowder, neither of which appeared to be new and brushed my teeth. We all tried to recognise and use our own toothbrushes but it was quite hit and miss
I went to breakfast in considerable pain. I was sat in ‘my place’, my nose was held and I was given a spoonful of cod liver oil. Breakfast was porridge, a boiled egg, some bread and butter and a cup of tea. One of the older boys had my egg.
Looking around, I discovered that the boys’ ages ranged from about six to thirteen. There were no girls at this home. We were all dressed shabbily in shorts, a grey shirt and a grey woollen vest.
Some of the older boys had been at the home a long time and could be quite arrogant, bullying and vindictive. At night, some of those in their early teens would share a bed. It was noticeable that the staff prefered the younger ones, especially the newer ones. Sometimes, older boys would come to the younger end of the dormitory, but a scream, a bite or having a wet bed was usually sufficient to deter them.
I was not at this particular home very long. I became extremely withdrawn and my behaviour caused concern. I developed the habit of collecting books, comics, newspapers, anything with pictures of people and would tear or cut out a specify part of the pictures. I don’t remember why I did it, but there must have been something cathartic about these symbolic acts of castration.
My notes, those that survive, asked no questions about what might have caused this bizarre behaviour but put it down to “low intelligence” and “moral deficiency.” It says a lot about the judgments of those in charge of child psychiatry at the time. I was a confident and avid reader and, as far as I know, “moral deficiency” is not something that you just catch.
My incarceration ended after a few months. I went home and resumed life and school. The children’s home became a series of memories which I wrote down when I started a diary. Nobody ever spoke of this period again.
It was about eighteen months later that my brother and I were taken together to another children’s home. This one was a large former Gentleman’s residence. It provided care for boys and girls. Outside were pleasant grounds. Inside were dormitories, some individual bedrooms, a dayroom and a dining room. The Home manager lived on site with his wife and son in a flat which the inmates were not allowed access to, although I was allowed in just once.
Visits to ‘uncles’.