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THE THOUGHTS OF A GROWN UP CHILD
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On leaving the Home
On leaving the Home, my mother knew that I had not been very happy during my stay. It was suggested by her that I should start afresh and forget about the past few years. If I put my mind to school work and made new friends there would be plenty to occupy my mind.
Spare the Rod ?
At school the method used for keeping me under control was physical punishment. During my school life it was one of the most hated events that could ever occur.
If I was a bit of a coward, I would have offered to do endless amounts of written work if it was to get out of having the cane or plimsoll. If I had been asked at the time, would have been pleased to see such punishments come to an end, the answer would have been yes. If extra work was the only form of punishment that could have been set, it would have been far easier for me to have been even worse behaved than I actually was.
The only solution for the schools would have been to expel me. If asked today about how children should be punished at school, I would give a different answer. Some physical punishment should be allowed, I am not agreeing that a child should be hit around the face or to suffer any violent punishment in anger, but a carefully regulated form with either a plimsoll or authorised cane might be a method of keeping order and allowing adults to have the respect they deserve.
The worst possible form of punishment would be to have it inflicted in front of a parent. Possibly only a threat would be needed if ever physical punishments are allowed again in schools to get a child to behave.
Often adults will tell you that punishments did not do them any harm. This is not something I could totally agree to, but the cane and other punishments saved me from far worse events taking place.
During my childhood I was always worried and uneasy over the punishment I might receive, but once over I was normally fine.
The punishments I received from both my grandmother and mother, were given more with kindness than anger, if I could understand what I had done wrong, it was thought I would not do the same thing again. The only exception with punishments from my mother would have been for my bedwetting at the age of seven. I was been punished more for causing a delay in her morning routine rather than the babyish act I believed I was punished for.
The plimsoll from my mother did little to stop such a problem, if anything it made me more fearful and caused even more wet beds. Most of the physical signs did not last for very long, as nearly every punishment I received was given without excessive force, simply the right amount to make me understand the errors of my ways and that I should improve my behaviour.
Memory of the events might be a way of keeping out of trouble, for most of my punishments the pain was soon over, I did improve my behaviour for a short while, this method certainly worked. The odd bruses lasted far longer than the pain and in the teachers mind might be a way or reminding me not to cause trouble. I may have often hated most of the teachers that had inflicted the punishment, but within a short time the punishment was forgotten, until my next wrong doing was brought to their attention.
My first encounter with the cane at school was soon after my seventh birthday; its after effects remained in my mind the longest. It was a punishment that I did not really earn but it did me little physical harm, it might have even been an ideal point in showing how I should act at school. The actual matter of the cane itself had soon been over and more or less forgotten by the end of the lesson. From that point on I knew what the cane and plimsoll were like and although frightened of it, once it had been given that was the end of the punishment.
The majority of my physical punishments during my later childhood, were unjust, but taken with the matters I did not get punished for, made the events about even. Had these forms of punishments not been available, I would soon have been in far worse trouble, it was a simple method of keeping me under control, an alternative in the modern world would be to given me some form of drug to allow a more normal form of behaviour, but on leaving school would I have been able to live without such help.
For a large number of boys who were at school up to the 1970’s the cane was simply a threat and never actually used on them, possibly only 1 in 10 boys ever received the cane during their childhood. All knew it was there and would be used on the worst behaved. That it could be used, stopped many from bad behaviour.
For boys from the 1980’s the threat of punishment was never there. They will never realise that much of the punishment of the cane, was with the events leading up to the actual act.
Teachers often prolonged the actual event of giving the cane for a couple of hours, allowing a boy to realise that at the end of the lesson or at the end of the day he would be caned, this was a torture, and would allow the child plenty of non physical pain in the events leading up to the event.
If a group of boys were to be caned, they would often find themselves lined up outside the headmasters study for long periods, simply waiting to be ushered in for the event.
For junior pupils this was often an upsetting matter, especially if it was the first time. It would only take a boy who had been caned on a previous occasion, to slightly elaborate the facts and send the newcomer into tears even before reaching the inside of the office, many boys on their first caning might arrive in the headmasters office with wet trousers, simply through fear.
The adult giving the strokes could also prolong the event, a long telling off before the actual event, this could be heart breaking for a young child. Then the ritual of either bending over or holding ones hand out with the palm raised was requested. For a first time offender, receiving the cane on the rear was perhaps the most favoured option, all they would hear would be the swish of the cane going through the air, before finding its target. For a boy who was asked to hold out his hand, it was the physically torture of holding the hand still, the shakes and the possible retraction as the cane came down, was often rewarded with an additional stroke. The fear of seeing the cane in its raised position was a major punishment; pain from the cane often came several seconds after the actual blow. Once the punishment was over, if the child was not already in tears, an additional lecture over required behaviour was often given. The punishment of the cane was both mental and physical punishment.
Some of the physical punishments in the Home I did deserve. The slipper kept me in order, it's use on me was an easy way of keeping control and once over I should return to been good, without further time needing to be spent on me.
If the Sister or Houseparent had not been able to use the slipper I might have become a problem and any form of easy family life could not have been possible. Giving me extra chores and the like might have been a solution, but without any worse punishment been available, I might have simply ignored chores set as punishments. If stopping visits to my mother been tried, then my activities in the Home would have become a nuisance.
The threat of the slipper or its actual use, did keep me in order and under control. However, if there were no physical punishments that could be given to me, I might have turned out to be a calm well behaved boy. Without the fear of punishments, many of the problems that seemed to cause conflict might not have occurred.
If I could not be given the cane or the slipper, I would have been strong enough to stand up to Sister and other adults at the Home and request a few changes. 1. I do not want to drink tea – it makes me sick. 2. At night if I want to go to the lavatory, please don’t stop me. 3. I would like to go for walks on my own outside the grounds. 4. I don’t want to go to Cubs. 5. I don’t want to go to Sunday school. 6. I don’t like parsnips please do not put them on my plate. 7. Can you keep my sweets safe, so I can have some each day? 8. I don’t want to escort a girl to school. 9. Can I visit my friends after school? 10 Can I visit my local relatives?
Ten simple matters that if I had the courage to put the requests would have made three years of my life far easier and for the staff I would have been far easier to manage. A child in care today could get most of these simple wishes granted without any problem.
In a way I am pleased to have had my childhood in the 1960's and early 1970's this was probably the last period where children have been allowed freedom to explore and enjoy themselves.
My Fear in the Home
During my stay in the Home I had one irrational fear; it was of wetting my bed. At first I did not know what the punishment would be if I wet the bed. If Sister had explained to me on my arrival that there was no punishment for wetting the bed, I might have been able to put my mind at rest and not to worry at night.
Another upset to my childhood was puberty. I never really realised that shortly before the age of eleven such things were happening to me. I was totally unaware of all the events that my body and my life were going through.
Before my arrival at the Home I might have been thought of as a rather bad tempered lonely boy. A few might have thought that I was a loner simply for not been able to make friends. I was quite happy on my own.
Until the age of six I had not been able to make any contact with other children to play with, for the next two years until the age of eight, having other children around was simply odd in my mind.
I was quite outgoing in my activities, this might result in a few more scrapes than other children, but I was reasonably happy. When I arrived at the Home I found my life so regulated to what I did and how I should act that I did change.
Sister could see I was nervous, until that time I had never shown any such signs and was probably more adventurous than most other children. When I joined the Home I was put with three boys who had spent all their lives in care, they knew the system. Their main aim was survival. It was fully known by them the amount of effort they needed to put into any request by an adult to conform.
With my seven years of freedom of the outside world, in my mind I wanted to rebel against matters that I did not think were right. I did not go out of my way to be disruptive, however many of my actions made it seem as if I was always causing trouble. I did not want to think of spending my entire life in the Home, although we were well cared for, I was longing for the freedoms that I had already enjoyed and simply could not understand why such freedoms should now be forbidden.
My placement into a family group where some of the other children had experienced life outside the Home might have made my stay an easier matter, it was the total organised regime of what we did and when we did that I disliked. If the staff had spent a little more time talking to me in a quiet environment, it might have been possible to solve a couple of my problems that in turn would have prevented other problems from occurring.
The NCH had a system to run, it had evolved over many years, by the mid 1960's things were running smoothly for those who fitted in. It could take one child that while not actually rebelling against the system to cause problems, it seemed I simply did not fit in. The wide range of ages and circumstance simply meant that in any one group there was going to be some friction.
If more of the hoped for plans about my future had been explained perhaps I would have been able to settle down, it was simply the uncertain future for my family from the age of about ten that worried me.
If in later years the decision was made that the large groupings of children did not work out in the changing society, then there was a good reason for closing down all the Homes and trying to settle children with their parents in normal surroundings, by simply giving help to the parents directly wherever possible, then I can see this is possibly a more humane way.
The staff of the Home were devoted to looking after children. The Sisters did not simply look after us for set hours of the day, other than allowing them day's or part of the day off they were there to provide for our needs and education every moment of our life like a true parent.
There was a build up of trust between the Sister and the child, with the arrival of Houseparents providing they took on the roll that the Sisters had evolved; they too could be completely trusted by the children in their care.
In modern society finding such devoted staff would be difficult and with modern thinking perhaps having a child so reliant on one adult might not be a good idea. Children need security, the National Children's Home gave this in the form of group homes and orphanages and it did solve the problems of the time.
If my arrival had been a few years later, I might have found that support came to my mother directly, this might have lead to a more pleasant life. In the mid 1960s there was no government financial support for a lone parent, had my mother been given some minor financial support or had help in looking after her disabled parents then my view on life might have been different.
The NCH had given me an outlook on life that the ordinary child would not have experienced; life outside the Home was not comfortable for every child. For most of our friends we met at school they would have had a happy family life, however there would have been a few of our friends that would have suffered far worse experiences through ill treatment and neglect, than we ever imagined, they simply needed to keep silent through keeping a family together.
During my stay at the Home it was the most miserable chapter in my life, however without their help my life could have easily been far worse and their simple act of kindness possible kept me from far worse experiences.
My adult life might not be as settled as one could hope, my feelings and relationships with people for some reason has never been possible. If there was any fear in my mind about settling down and starting a family relationship it has simply been that for what ever reason if there was a breakdown of the family group, that any children might suffer was not something I was prepared to see happen.
The Home had the modern idea that we should live in small family groups of both boys and girls over a wide range of ages. It might seem to be a nice idea where the older children could look after the younger ones, in reality a wide range of ages and putting boys and girls together could lead to friction at times.
I would have preferred it if the flats were for either boys or girls and a more specialised age band where there might only be an age difference of a couple of years between everyone in the flat. In that system there might have been the competition to try and be the best, but to me I think I would have liked a choice of friends to make in a more limited age range.
During my childhood the many different locations and schools I attended did give me a wider outlook on life than many other children will have achieved. My education did suffer, if there had been a more normal life, possibly my line of eventual work would have been far different from how things have turned out.
Since the last senior school I joined, I have lived in the same town. With over thirty years in the same area whilst it is not actually boring, the first fifteen years were certainly the most interesting part of my life.
If I had refused to return to the Home or run away at some point duing my stay, and it was decided by my mother that it might be best that I did not return to the Home, would the NCH have demanded the extra £1 per week for the period of my stay (£150), from my mother as the contract that she signed had as a condition or would they have been pleased to see me go?
If there has been one interesting thing I have learnt from my file, it is who actually made the suggestion that I went into the Home at Harpenden.
Until I received my file I had always thought it was one set of aunts and uncles that made the first contact with the Home, but on reading my file I found it was another aunt and uncle that made the first contact.
There are a few more documents that I hoped would have survived. It might be that they still do exist, but for various reasons they were not placed in my file, but stored in other files.
If the system of living in the Children's Home had not been available for me, the idea of temporary foster care might have been one way of sorting out my needs.
An ordinary family group with a couple of other children would not have worked out very well. In an ideal situation it would have been to place me as a single child with adults. At the time I might have asked to be placed with other children simply to have someone to play with, but this would have only worked out if the other children might have had similar thoughts to mine.
For helping my education if I was placed with adults that were able to encourage me in the standard way of education by simply giving me extra school type work I think I would have rebelled and not co-operated in any way. However if any adults were willing to allow my knowledge to grow more by experimentation rather than direct lesson type work, I would have been far more willing to make an attempt to learn.
A more science type interest might have been something I could have shown interest in if there had been the opportunity. Physical work in farming or agriculture would not really have suited me though.
If there had been a more adult environment on a one to one basis, then I might have improved on the education side. Mixing with other children only seemed to cause problems, without other children around I might have become a bit more introvert, but in then there would not have been any aggressiveness on my part.
My ability to get into fights might have been lessened if there had been one minor change to my appereance. If I had worn glasses then I might have not got into as many fights. Soon after leaving school I needed to wear glasses permantly.
My life could have been completely different to how it turned out if just a few minor changes had occurred at different points in my life.
In my mind it is a bit like climbing a tree you start at one single position at the base, a little way up and branches divide, you can make choices to which way you go, dependent at the choice at that moment it is possible to end up in any position.
The points where my life could have changed completely can be shown at several different places, there might have been a chance that events would have crossed and I might have ended up where I am today, but the chance seemed so slim.
My first branch in life came when my mother decided to return to her parents with me, if my parents had stayed together then my life might have been quite ordinary.
At an early age if I had been sent to nursery school and mixed with other children, I might not have decided that a solitary life was my choice.
The first school if I had settled in to school life and fitted in with the schools ideals then future written work might have been far easier.
The move to the next location would still probably have happened but equally there chance of going to Holland would have occurred if my mother had allowed extra time for passports to be obtained.
The illness of my grandparents might have brought my mother back to London, unless we had been far enough away and quite settled. The chance of my going into the Home at this point had my mother returned to London would have quite possibly happened, but if my earlier schooling been more settled then problems with work might not have been there, however if we had returned from Holland I might find that I was missing two or more years of English schooling and still have problems over school work.
It might be that the Home did not have many of the details of my history from my mother over the period shortly before my eighth birthday.
If I was in the Home then perhaps matters might have been explained more, my views on life there might have been completely changed, if there was a future date for leaving then I might have been far happier, if however it had been suggested that my stay was to be until I left school then far more serious problems could have easily occurred.
The health of my grandparents would have still had a major input to how my life evolved. If their health had improved quickly then my mother might have been able to leave at a far earlier period, equally if their health had deteriorated much earlier then she would have also left at an earlier point in time.
This would have changed all future possibilities, there would have been no reason for us to ever have joined my aunt and uncle, they would have never have purchased the village shop, if they had earlier plans it might have been to move abroad in the mid 1960s.
When I was almost eight, if the lady in the village had not spoken out, would I have remained at the boarding school until I was eleven. My future life from that point might have been completely different. The chances were though, that I would still have gone with my mother to live with my aunt and uncle. I still would have hidden my previous three years of my life from my friends, but I would not have had the constant worry, that I could be returned to the Home. My mother might have decided however that she wanted to return to housekeeping again, and the pair of us would have gone off on our own.
At reaching the age of eleven, I think the governor made a wise decision to ask my mother to have me back as soon as possible. Although when the request was actually made, I was starting to find things were starting to get better at the Home simply due to changing schools, where I was allowed to have a more grown up style of education and have extra freedom away from the Home.
If I had been able to move into one of the other flats with a different age mix, everthing might have worked out fine. It was at the point just before my eleventh birthday when everything around me seemed to be going wrong. Had I not changed schools or returned to my mother, life at the Home would have become unbearable.
These two simply matters slotting into place at the right moment prevented some very serious matters from unfolding. It might have been that my temper may have got the better of me and I might have caused serious injury to the staff and another children, or I could have bottled everything up inside and made the decision that there was no future for me at the Home. The report the governor received from the St Albans Clinic was the point that action was taken over my life at the Home.
My mothers health could have also played an important part in my future, if she had remained as a housekeeper during the mid 1960s would her leg problems have enabled her to have continued in work, it could easily have been at that point I was placed in the Home.
Until the age of twelve there seemed to be so many forces working which have influenced the course of my life. Most children have a reasonable stable boring future mapped out for them. To me the changes in my life seem to be of benefit and I think I am happy to how events have evolved, but I might have enjoyed a family both in my childhood and in my adult life.
SCHOOL Location and AGE
Homework was the most usless events at school. If homework had been preparation for a future lesson I could quite see the reason for it to be set. However homework that is simply part of the lesson you have just taken and in my mind there is little point in having it set.
If it was necessary to give us extra work, I would have been more than happy to do it during break time or to have had the school day increased by up to an hour.
Having to take books home and to try and complete homework always resulted in a poor effort from me. In many cases when homework was handed in, it was more of a chore for the teachers to deal with during our lesson time, when their time would have been better spent on physically teaching us.
If there was one item I would have loved to try it would have been a Knickerbocker Glory, this interesting ice cream seemed to have everything you could wish for. I often saw pictures on menus and even other children eating them, but due to the cost one never came my way, I had to make do with a small vanilla cone or if very lucky a small strawberry cone.
Since leaving the Home there has one item of food that I have never been able to find. During my stay one of the breakfasts I liked were tinned tomatoes on toast. Unlike the ordinary tomatoes that one can purchase in tins and are of the plum variety, the tins of tomatoes that were at the home were always the round variety, although I did not normally like sweet items, compared to plum tomatoes, the tomatoes in the Home were always very nice.
If the has been one slight disappointment during my many moves around the country, it is over the decision as to what should be saved and what should be discarded. The normal limit for my possessions had been one suitcase, the main part of its contents was clothing, if any space was left then toys and other souvenirs of my childhood became a distinct second choice when it came to the content of the case. Photographs and souvenirs from school are perhaps the items that I am most sorry to see have become lost, actual objects of toys could be purchased again to remind me of my childhood. Some photographs did get into the family album, most however simply became lost amongst the other paper items that were thought of as rubbish.
Photographs are a wonderful method of preserving the past. If possible keep your negatives in a safe place if you use film, photographic prints to tend to get lost.
At the time I left the Home my mother questioned me as to why they had asked me to leave, but there was nothing I thought I had done wrong any more than usual to get this request made by the Home.
My final thoughts
If I can offer advice to a child that is suffering from bullies. It is to do the total opposite to how I spent my school life.
Running away from bullies just did not seem to work. Today adults might be more willing to listen if you complain you are suffering from bullies, don't complain only once, make several adults understand how you feel and that your life is miserable, at some point you will find an adult that will listen.
For any boy that is suffering at night from wetting the bed, my main advice is not to worry. It's only pee, it will not harm you and sheets can be washed, simply make sure you have a waterproof cover on your mattress all the time.
If you think of yourself as dirty over the matter, don't, once you have had a bath or shower you will be far cleaner than most of your friends at school. Allow friends into your room, when they find that your mattress needs protection, ignore any teasing. If they tell other friends of your problem, it does not matter, the teasing will soon be over.
Go on camping trips and have friends over to sleep. You might find that if everyone knows of your problem, a few other boys might want to become close friends.
If you are under twelve, the likelihood is that someone else in your class wets the bed. In time the chances are you will grow out of it, just think of it as part of growing up.
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