Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Old Timer - a guest blogger. Part 1

I'm nearly 60, male, a former foster child and a widower. I have been a very long term (years) visitor to another similar forum but never felt happy about posting there and I never did. There was sometimes too much negativity and cynicism for my taste. 
I was fostered during the 1960s and 1970s. It was a different world then but some things never change. All the people involved are long since dead although the middle of St Albans hasn't changed that much. I lived near the Abbey Station (the Watford line station) not far from the cathedral. I was a foster child from 14 to 16 when I left after my O levels. I passed 5 but wasn't allowed to go into the school sixth form and anyway I couldn't afford it. In those days it wasn't hard finding work at 16 and I worked for a small engineering firm down one of the alleyways off the main shopping street. I didn't expect any support once I left the foster home and I didn't get any. They did it for the money as Mrs X was a bit disabled. I do wonder about what if this or what if that sometimes but not often because it was just the way things were. Some kids like me went to the National Children's Home in Harpenden, the next station north, but fostering was supposed to be better than going there.
My Father had served in India and Burma during WW2 and when he came back to England he was in poor health. Physically he had suffered a lot fighting the Japs and mentally he never seemed to recover from the dreadful things he saw when he was out there. I don't remember him at all as I was only 3 when he died. There is a photograph of him holding me as a baby and you would swear he was mid 50s rather than mid 30s.

My Mother coped well for a while. But in the end her assorted eating disorders meant she went into one of the many large mental hospitals near St Albans. So I went into the fostering system.
There was a another family who fostered next door to where I ended up. Rosemary was their foster child and she was my first teen crush. She then moved to a more permanent place up on King Harry Lane and I only saw her again by accident. The last time by the Old Clock Tower in about 1973/4. I wonder what happened to her, she would be about 60 now?
My foster parents never hit or abused me. They never starved me or stole from me. The house was warm and I had a room of my own. But they never showed any love for me or any interest in me. As I said earlier that was just the way it was back then.

When I left foster care I was told that lodgings had been found for me with a Mrs H. She lived where the Maltings Development is now right is the centre of town and only 3 minutes from my job. Mrs H was quite old, but she was lovely. She looked after me like a Mother would and I was very happy there. I stayed there until after I got engaged to Jane my late wife. You didn't usually live together until after you were married in those days but Mrs H didn't say anything when Jane sometimes stayed overnight.

I only saw my foster parents a few times after I moved out. My O level results were sent on a postcard to their address (no going into school to collect results in the 1970s) so I went down to collect them. Grades went from 1 to 9 with 1 to 6 counting as a pass. I got 1s in Maths, Physics and Chemistry - a grade 2 in art and a grade 3 in English. I was pleased with 5 passes and later on I used the results to get onto FE college evening classes. Lots of people did evening classes and I made some more friends there. We used to go as a group to watch the professional football in Luton or in Watford, travelling there on the train.

It is strange that so few books have been written about the 1970s. It was an exciting time to live through and in some ways much better than now. No computers in schools and just a few in the college. Nobody used mobile phones and there was no internet or email. Social Workers were always moaning about case loads and always tried to look trendy. They never did much for me!
I did some City and Guild qualifications at the college in St Albans and ended up as a technician at a school helping in what they call Design Technology now. I met my wife there, she worked in the canteen. We got married in 1978 and moved to the western side of Wolverhampton to be closer to her family. We were not able to have children but we were happy enough. We both worked until she was diagnosed with heart disease in 2007. She died in 2009. I now work alternate 2 and 3 days a week still in a school as a technician doing a job share. Because I don't have family of my own and because we didn't have any children of our own I'm rather alone so working with the young people is nice. I don't look forward to the school holidays but I bet the youngsters do.

I have spend ages looking for other fostered adults but either they don't exist or don't want to admit it because I hardly ever find one to talk to. I swapped letters and then emails with one former foster child for ages (over 30 years) but he died in 2011. It is nice to reread all the things we wrote sometimes. 
I counted up all the letters and emails Mike sent me and it came to nearly 900. I met Mike at a school reunion, he happened to hear me mention that I had been fostered and we got talking because he had been fostered like me. He had lived with a foster family near the Ancient Briton pub but as he was in the year above me I didn't know him before that day. He was a good pal to me and I hope I was a good pal to him. He never married but he certainly had lots of lady friends in the different places he worked. When I first knew him he was working in Watford, then it was Taunton, then Hull and finally Chester.
When he realised he was really ill he got somebody to photocopy all the letters I had ever sent him. He then sent them to me as a surprise birthday present. So then I did the same thing for him and I think he managed to read most of what I sent him before he died from liver problems. This was a shock because he had been given 1 to 2 years by the doctors but only lasted 9 weeks. I have just reread all the letters I sent him and although some of them are fairly boring lots still make me laugh and a very few make me quite sad even after so many years. He helped me sort out Jane's funeral and that was typical of the man he was. I think he deserved better than he got from his life. Hardly anybody made the effort to go his funeral, I think it was less than ten of us there.



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