Though only spent just over 18 months in a children’s home from 1998 to 1999, this placement acted as a launch pad to me finding a new family.
The extract below recounts my departure from the Kinnons, horrible abusive foster carers who hatred of me was only matched by my hatred of them, and my arrival at Sutton Road Children’s Home on the borders of Sutton Coldfield in Birmingham.
NOTE: Names have been altered for privacy issues.
“He has been slow to invest in his current placement and this seems likely to be due to intense, on-going attachment to mother”
Child Therapist, 15th April 1999
‘I’m leaving? When? Where am I going?’
I can’t quite remember the trigger for the Kinnons to get rid of the little shit that was me. Among the documents of my time in foster care it is stated that the Kinnons claimed I used to kick household items (though we were almost exclusively confined to the playroom), that I urinated on the floor, that I kicked a hole in the playroom wall and had broken their fridge.
‘Bollocks!’ my adult self would say.
I certainly can’t remember urinating on the floor but if I was being honest with myself I vaguely recall being guilty of the rest.
So with my bin bag full of clothes in hand and a frayed holdall, I awaited my social worker Linda, anticipating my departure from the Kinnons and onto my next adventure. Did I cry when I left? Did I punch the air and hoot with glee? This I cannot say but I do remember that taxi journey.
It had rained for all of that week, sheets of it blurred the outside, pouring down those grimy taxi windows. A chill seemed to seep through the doors and the frayed leather seats were cold to the touch. With my social worker beside me and a destination she didn’t see fit to tell me about – I was quite excited. The unknown might scare me sometimes but then again I was off on another journey, a new temporary place to get used to, continuing the tapestry of ‘unbelonging’.
It was the 30th December, five days after christmas and two days after my birthday. We drove through the remnants of festivity that were prevalent in the city of Birmingham. I saw a McDonald’s and all but asked the social worker if we could go there. I told her my birthday was the other day; no response. She ignored my thinly veiled hints and smiled at me. Irritated but not totally surprised, I watched wistfully as the yellow ‘M’ disappeared into the distance.
We reached our destination suddenly. I didn’t realise at first what was happening, I peeled my eyes away from the hypnotic taximeter to see Linda getting out.
‘We’re here Luke,’ she informed me.
I took my time unclipping the seatbelt and unhurriedly exited the vehicle with my bag of clothes. A detached house loomed over me, fronted by an big black door.
The first thing that occurred to me was that it was a big ass house, then my mind raced ahead like it always does. They must be rich. Finally I was getting rewarded for putting up with the Kinnons!
A woman greeted us. Oh they have servants! Sorted!
‘…how many children are in the children’s home?’ asked Linda.
Wait up! A children’s home? I’m not that bad surely. Apparently though… I was.
Sutton Road Children’s home; a place according to documents that I was told about and introduced to, though this suspicious retrofitted protocol utterly eludes me – I suspect ineptitude to be honest.
Darren, my assigned Key Worker, gave me a tour of the Children’s Home; a patchwork of garish decor and neutrality. He pointed out bathrooms and other places of interest but I was barely listening. Though resilient like most children, the disconnection between expectation and reality was so jolting that I remember feeling a horrible compression on my body. Darren led me up two flights of stairs to the bedrooms. After swinging through two thick fire doors I was brought to my new bedroom. The shell of a room contained only a small bed and oddly a sink. I had nowhere to put my clothes, I said as much to Darren who promised me a chest of drawers tomorrow. As much as I hated the Kinnons my bedroom there was twice the size of this. I slumped my meagre stuff onto the bed; a rubbish bag full of charity shop clothes and my car-boot christmas presents.
‘Well I’ll leave you to it,’ Darren said gruffly. ‘Usually we get you up 8 o’clock but for tomorrow morning we can make an exception.’
‘Can my Mom see me here?’
‘Of course,’ Darren answered yawning.
He left me to it.
Would you believe it, the first morning I awoke in Sutton Road I had wet the bed. I cursed repeatedly, not knowing what the procedure was for wetting the bed.
I was embarrassed, my stomach clenched at the thought that this was probably the first thing I would be known for.
I stripped and tried to wash myself thoroughly in that odd sink, hoping to at least get rid of the smell – but oh my god the sheets!
There was a knock at the door and I paled. I was conscious that I was half dressed and without thinking pulled back on the wet pyjama top. I peeked out of the door and found an elderly lady looking down at me.
She was wheeling a trolley stacked with linens and various cleaning materials.
‘You must be Luke,’ she said kindly. ‘I can come back to do your room later.’
My mouth went dry, my response was a feeble grunt. I tried again but she turned to leave.
‘Sorry,’ I called. ‘I had a…’
I hoped I didn’t have to say it. I feared her expression would transform into Debra Kinnon’s, whose doughy face would crease up with mocking amusement every time she found out I had wet the bed. The lady however did not react as I expected.
‘It’s alright dear,’ she assured. ‘Between us, you are not the only child in this place who have accidents.’
I must have blushed even more. She handed me a towel from her trolley.
‘The boy’s showers are a few doors down the way. You’ll see it.’
I took the towel from her, dug out some clean clothes and hurried to get a shower.
Though the shame was almost overwhelming, I was oddly elated at the fact that I wasn’t punished like I would have been at the Kinnons, nor was I forced to wash the sheets myself.
Though ignorant of the morning routine at the children’s home, I made my way downstairs and through the kitchen I had past last night. The kitchen was jammed, at least fifteen children of different ages and races were in various stages of devouring their breakfast. Eyes followed me, shouts and calls that I ignored plaguing me all the way to the kitchen counter. Though pretty much identical to a serving counter at school, this vast kitchen was in the hands of one woman.
She was tall and sickly thin, the epitome of the phrase ‘rough around the edges’. She spotted me and flew over.
‘Ay up! Who do we have ‘ere then?’ she rasped at me.
Her voice was more of a cackle, a witches voice, a low masculine sound that reminded me of Chelmsley Wood.
I didn’t say hello.
‘So what can I do you for bab? Eggs? Bacon? I have some sausages on the go but they won’t be long.’
Used to mere soggy cereals for breakfast at the Kinnons, I was slightly overwhelmed. A choice of food was just odd. I mumbled some choice I don’t quite remember.
‘A happy little chap aren’t ya?’ the chef said smiling, showing a truly revolting set of teeth, which reinforced her resemblance to a witch.
So with my breakfast I turned and found myself the centre of attention. I approached an unoccupied table.
‘Oi, new kid! Over ‘ere!’
I was surrounded, ambushed by several children who fought to sit next to me. I would have been flattered if I wasn’t so worried and agitated.
‘So what’s your name then?’ I heard.
I turned to see a girl a few years older than me. I was reminded of some overweight meerkat; her posture stiff, eyes darting erratically.
‘Luke,’ I said.
A highly freckly teen with a bowl haircut and unnerving deep set eyes came very close to my face. He held out a greasy hand.
‘John,’ he said as though daring me to refuse his hand. ‘My dads in prison.’
What do you say to that? Oh ‘well done’? The meerkat girl danced around the others:
‘I’m Teresa. Bin ‘ere two years.’
More information I didn’t care about.
‘Ignore her. No one likes her,’ said another boy. ‘I’m Dean.’
After a lengthy interrogation a small asian boy called Yann spoke to me. He was bespectacled, with an odd habit of pursing his lips as though he had just put on lipstick. Yann wanted to know why I was here.
I shrugged, more lazy than embarrassed. I became good friends with Yann, though our friendship was possibly due to the fact that he wasn’t prone to violence at the slightest provocation like the others.
After breakfast I was literally seized and was told that we would be playing outside. I recall a bite in the air but the rain had fortunately abated.
‘Acky one two three,’ said Dean succinctly.
And thus began my initiation with the scally-wags of Sutton Road Children’s Home.
I didn’t understand.
Dean shook his head and brushed fingers against his chin.
‘It’s a game, you mong. You never played it?’
I shook my head.
‘It’s simple,’ said Teresa. ‘See that tree over there?’
She pointed to a thick tree near the door to the yard.
‘A person counts to forty and the rest hide. The rest of us have to get to it and say ‘acky one two three’ but if you see us you have to run back to base and say ‘acky one two three’ and then our name.’
I thought it merely a blend of tag and hide and seek but after I said as much, some of them snorted with contempt.
‘We’re not babies.’
As expected I was chosen to be ‘it’. Because I didn’t really know their names children simply charged towards the tree without even hiding. I saw them and ran back to the tree but rules required me to shout out their name too and apparently screaming ‘acky one two three thingy’ would not suffice.
Copyright © Luke Fielding