Tuesday, April 28, 2015


A few weeks ago I nearly found myself driving  past the house where I was born.

When I say 'born', I mean the house I was brought up in after being born in a hospital.

What I mean by 'nearly' is that I was en route from somewhere to somewhere else and the journey took me a couple of miles from the house. 

So I did what everyone does, and went out of my way to deliberately drive past the house. 

It looked smaller than I remember, and more run down.

Got me wondering how the houses they are fostered in seem in the memory of looked-after children.

When I was little, about seven or eight, I was sent on a kid swap with some friends of my mum. The couple had two children about my age, and the deal was I'd spend a week at their house during the summer holidays and their eldest would come and stay with us for a week.

I can still remember every tiny detail about the stay, and I was only there a week.

The house seemed like a palace to me; huge and full of valuables.

I remember the layout of the house, the kitchen towards the back with the temperamental washing machine (we didn't have one in our house so I marked them down as rich). I remember the living room where we lay on the floor and watched Robinson Crusoe on TV. I remember the small bedroom at the top of the stairs where the son was allowed to leave his train set out, didn't have to put it away after every play. I remember the thing he liked to do best, which was put two trains on the same track and make them crash.

I remember that the mum was quite a good drawer, she could draw people. She and her husband used to get exasperated with their son because he was a bit wayward, and I noticed that he got away with things you wouldn't dare in our house.

I remember they had a black labrador. They'd given him the name which we now refer to as "The 'N' Word". It wasn't meant in a racist way, but it was a mistake. The N word was bandied about back then, used in various phrases, all of them rightly junked or banned nowadays. One of Britain's greatest war heroes had a dog with the same name, and when they made a film about him they had to dub the name "Trigger" for American audiences.

The family lived near Norbury Common in London and the dad used to take me up there every evening walking N. His own children didn't want to come. The dog would go off sniffing and being a black lab and the sun going down, when it was time to go home the dog was nowhere to be seen. Young as I was, I knew it was wrong to stand on a common overlooking Brixton shouting the dog's name out as loud as he could.

I think looked-after children start by noticing your house. The layout of rooms, and maybe things that are probably precious and want to avoid knocking over. They probably think your house is gigantic and probably on a pedestal compared to their place. It can be a shocking experience to visit a foster child's real home. We went to one, and noticed three day old squashed boxes of KFC and chip wrappers, which had been pushed down the sides of the sofa rather than disposed of. The sofa faced the biggest flat screen TV I've ever seen.

I guess that like me up at Norbury, foster children paint a big picture in their mind of the people in the house, that's where the impact is for them, and quite right too. We carers, our children, pets and wider family, we're what matters, and probably what they remember.

I suspect that when they get older some foster children will drive past our homes and remember. 

Hope their memories make them feel ok.

Hope they don't catch sight of us.

We'll probably look smaller and run down too...


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