Friday, 18 December 2015

Just a girl I used to know - part 3 (she "dumped me")

I have known a number of girls called Caroline. Each time a Caroline has come into my life it hasn't turned out well either for me or for her.

Starting with the most recent - Caroline was the vicar at a church I used to visit (fairly irregularly). When I first joined her congregation she made me feel welcome, partly because I was by far the youngest adult member of her "flock" and partly because, just as I was,  she was married with a pre-school child. Gradually though I noticed a certain "chill" developing between us - I was slowly but certainly marginalised in those aspects of church life that I most enjoyed. I tried hard to stay friendly and co-operative but it wasn't to be. I came to dread seeing her and so I stopped going to "her" church and I haven't seen her to speak to in a couple of months.

The next Caroline was a lady in her 40s who had moved to a rented house a few doors away from where I live. Her husband had moved to the town when he took up a promoted post locally and she was feeling quite lonely. We used to meet up for coffee and a chat on a Saturday (her husband used to work Saturdays) but then she started making excuses that gradually got stranger and less believable. I took the hint and although we are polite to each other - as I hope I would be to any neighbour - there is no trace of friendship left. Perhaps we just didn't have enough in common?

The third Caroline was a girl I knew at school. She was one of the "cool kids" and she decided when we were both in year 11 that it would be trendy to become a lesbian. So she did, or at least in her mind she did. Briefly Ella and I were admitted to her inner circle but the instant she moved on her next craze we were dumped as being bad for her image. This Caroline was, and still is by all accounts, a typical "alpha female". She has a fairly high profile in the town but she is almost universally disliked and mistrusted by everybody I know.

Before you ask - yes I do seem to have a problem maintaining friendships with normal, mainstream people. Please feel free to comment why this might be the case!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Fostered friends we never see

One of the many advantages of new technology is that you can stay in touch with people who have moved to the other side of the world just as easily as if they were living in the next town. Email addresses travel with you so it no longer matters if your physical address changes quite often.

Ella and I have an old-fashioned address book, so old in fact that it is made from paper rather than just being electronic. Some of our longest running friends have multiple addresses - up to 20 in some cases - but their email addresses remain unchanged. That makes things so much simpler!

There are lots of people I feel I know quite well despite having either not seen them for years or in some cases never having met them face-to-face.

BT Overdrive went to the same school as Ella and I. She was fostered but as she wasn’t in the same year group as us we never got to know her during our school days. We met her for the first time at a school reunion some years after we had both left and the similarities in our upbringing came up in conversation over tea and cake. She is currently working in South Africa as a nanny. Her best friend,  fellow subscriber and very gifted author Joined Up Writing was fostered in Port Elizabeth and is also working a nanny. South Africa is somewhere that is high on our list of places we would like to visit so it would be nice to think we will see BT Overdrive again one day.  

Emma R was a key-note speaker at a conference that Ella and I both attended. Although we have only met her this one time we exchange experiences via email every few months and she is very much on our "active friends" list. She is currently working in Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) for a tour company. 

Pixie and Dixie are two friends of mine from university. They have seen more and done more than any couple of their age I have ever met or heard about. From the first time we met they seem to have done almost everything together. Currently they are working in Malta, despite the financial problems there. They hope to get married in 2016 and promised me that it would happen in the UK so we could all attend without bankrupting ourselves. 

Last, but not least, of my long-distance friends there is Stars and Stripes who lives in the USA with her foster Dad. She is another old-girl of my former school. Her foster parents divorced just as she was timing out with them but despite this she moved with him (ex US military) to live in Denver and then onto Phoenix (Scottsdale) with him and his new wife. Stars and Stripes is attending a community college as a mature student with a view to going to university.

Of course there are some former friends who have died (Boy who shall not be named) or have fallen out of touch with us (Jam Tart, Kitty B and Reigning Monarch), usually when events in their own lives conspired to rather overwhelm them, but they are never far from our thoughts.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Care Kids and friendship groups

Just a girl I used to know - part 2 (I broke contact)

On a handful of occasions Ella and I had to make the hard decision to expel somebody from our lives. The most memorable of these was Straightlaced who wanted to share and receive far too much personal information far too soon after becoming our friend. She was supposed to a girl but I was always rather suspicious that she was actually a he and that her/his entire life story, based around living in fear of abusive and aggressive foster parents, was a total fantasy. She/he had two sock puppets - who posted from the same IP address!! - both of whom would effusively vouch for her/him. It is fair to say that Straightlaced didn’t accept my decision calmly and she/he wrote a long moaning email to me – which I ignored. 

The Lara G situation was more complicated and I am not entirely sure that Ella and I handled it correctly.  She had been writing a fostering themed blog that we had enjoyed reading. Real life then got in the way and she removed it telling the world that she was hoping to restart it, "…. maybe when I finish my PhD in 3-4 years", but as we all know 3-4 years is a very long time. We felt at that time that Lara was a very positive role model and that it would be a real shame if she vanished from the "former children in care" scene.  

Then things went wrong. Lara hadn’t given us the slightest indication of unhappiness when we were in contact in late 2012. So it came as a nasty surprise when we discovered that for several months prior to mid-2013 some very nasty material she had written about Ella and I was freely available on her website. Ella and I would have loved to have held her up as an example of what a foster child can achieve but nobody who acted like she did deserved our respect or support! 

Looking back Lara’s “lows” as a foster child were uncharacteristically, some might say implausibly, low while her “highs” were almost unprecedentedly high. The overall effect was to induce some major scepticism in several of our friendship group. Quite recently I did have a quick look to see if she was still around and rather to my surprise she was. So perhaps there was more truth to her life-story than I originally thought? 

Finally there was Denise. She and I lived 3 doors apart for 2 of the 3 years I was at university. We did some modules together so I got to know her quite well. Denise was very needy - there was always some crisis in her life that she expected her friends to help her sort out. These were never financial but were usually administrative or emotional. The problem with Denise was she was far more willing to accept help or seek help than to offer help and it was that reason that I went to considerable trouble to avoid working with her in group science projects. I had a premonition that she would expect the rest of the team to do the work: then she would free-load off them. From what I heard that was exactly what happened. We parted company at the end of the 3rd year - we had a cup of coffee in the canteen while we said all the meaningless things people say at the end of a long journey, then she walked away promising to keep in touch. She didn't and so I never got round to chasing her up.

Friday, 27 November 2015

War breaks out in the fostering world!

2016 Mega Meet Conference "Care Kids at 18+ - joining the wider world"

The two month canvassing and pre-voting period has begun and already people are getting upset, angry and hurt emails are being sent and the allegations are starting to fly!

If the Newcastle group can attract the most votes then the 2016 conference will take place there - and it is as simple as that. Ella and I cannot understand why such venom should be directed towards us from the members of the Newcastle Organising Committee (N.O.C.) for publically supporting the alternative South Wales "bid" - are we not entitled to have an opinion?

If two groups want to run the conference then I am pleased but I want whoever wins the nomination to do the whole job not just the easier parts of it. Everybody agrees that obtaining sponsorship is important and Ella and I worked hard to get £5,000 worth for the 2015 Conference in Birmingham. I don't think it is reasonable to say that we are "wilfully sabotaging" the Newcastle bid by stating that we will not accept the roles of "Sponsorship Co-Ordinators" for N.O.C.!

Some people seem to think that large numbers of people will automatically and unthinkingly vote the way that Ella and I say that we will be voting. I don't know why they think this is true. Yes, Ella and I will vote the same way and Didi would vote with us as we three would almost certainly be travelling together and that is it. 3 votes out of about 100 so hardly "a block vote"!

Both proposals have their strengths and weaknesses. And geography is the biggest weakness of the Newcastle bid. If you plot the locations of the entire electorate on a map nearly 70% of people are closer to S Wales than they are to Newcastle. And I would be surprised if the final vote differs very much from that. Basically I predict that the S Wales, London, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Birmingham sub-groups will all vote almost unanimously for the South Wales bid and the Blackpool and Lancashire group will be split fairly equally between the 2 venues. This already makes about 65%+ of all voters supporting South Wales and not likely to be persuadable no matter how good the Newcastle campaign is.

Ella and I were asked - "Do you ever think that there will be a Care Kids Conference in Newcastle?" - "Yes, but only after the more suitable venues have been exhausted! London, Blackpool, Leeds or Manchester all strike us as being "better" venues than Newcastle."

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Epic Fails and Epic Successes with Care Kids

Paul E was the editor of the 8 page email-based newsletter "Red Griffin" which was a magazine that was circulated to about 70 members of the current and former fostered and Children's Home kids in the Barry, Cadoxton, Penarth and Cardiff area of South Wales. Initially it received at least informal support from the "powers that be" but this support was withdrawn when it was decided that the magazine was both anarchic and subversive. So from issue #4 onwards it was produced entirely by the young people themselves. The circulation expanded from about 25 at issue #4 to around 70 at issue #16 which we believe was the last edition to be distributed. For sure #16 was the only issue that Ella and I ever saw and the editorial certainly read like a goodbye message.

For most of this time Paul E was the only editor with just occasional help from Tina. And this was the whole problem. It seems that Paul E had explained in issues #14 and #15 that he needed help if the magazine was to continue and when nobody volunteered that was it - gone! People that have never been involved in the production of a newsletter cannot begin to appreciate the work involved. Basically the newsletter is on your mind at least part of almost every day and while it is lovely that people appreciate what you have written offers of help are what you really need!

But despite this disappointment Paul E didn't lose his enthusiasm and he kept running the "Barry Boxing Day Bash". It hasn't always been held in Barry, although it usually has been and it hasn't always been held on Boxing Day, although again it usually has been. Didi has attended at least twice and she hopes to go again this year (2015) presumably with MagdaElla and I have never been to BBDB for exactly the same reason that Paul E has never attended our Christmas Open House - the two events are too close together. The BBDB has always been both successful and well-organised and those who attend always seem to enjoy it.

Didi has a very high opinion of Paul E, calling him the "Eve and Ella of South Wales"! So it is surprising that we have so little contact with him. We have met him only twice, once at his house (we got lost and so we arrived 15 minutes late) and once at a motorway service station (the traffic was heavy and we arrived late, again).

There have been other short-lived attempts to start (the easy bit) and then keep writing (the hard bit) newsletters for Care Kids. We know of "Between The Piers" that ran for about six months and eight issues in the Blackpool/Preston area and "Care Activists" that circulated in the Newcastle area. Both ran out of energy and enthusiasm.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Blackpool Pub-Meet for Care Kids

Blackpool depends heavily on tourism and conferences to support the local economy. This means that Blackpool has large numbers of hotels and guest houses all competing for employees. Many former foster children seem to end up in this sector - probably because many of the larger employers offer a room as part of the employment package. This gives the young person a base and the opportunity to work and job hunt at the same time.

Staff turnover is very rapid. Didi can remember so many youngsters who arrived in Blackpool who didn't make it past the first month. Overseas students were the worst for this. They would arrive with inadequate spoken English and make zero effort to improve and you would see them wondering around on their own during their time off duty looking unhappy or puzzled or both.

The regular social gatherings that took place were a lifeline to many young people living away from home for the first time. It wasn't just the meetings it was also the gradual putting together of a social network of familiar names and faces that was important. Some gatherings seem to specialise in overseas workers, some seem to attract the sporting element (mainly lads) and the Blackpool Pub-Meet has been a regular feature of the Care-Kids scene in Blackpool for the last 4 years. November 2015 will be the 50th such gathering!

The exact origins of the meeting have been rather lost in the "mists of time" although rather surprisingly the attendance sheets for every meeting have survived intact. The first meeting had just 7 people present of whom only 3 went on to became regular members - these were Didi, Charlotte and 38DD. Two other girls lasted for a few months before their circumstances changed and they, separately, left the area and the last two, both lads, only attended three meetings between them.

For the first couple of years the attendance varied between 7 and 17. There was a small group who almost always would turn up, a rather larger "sometimes attend" group and a whole mass of people who would only come once or twice before they would disappear never to be seen or heard from again.

We have made a lot of friends through the Blackpool Pub-meet. In no particular order there is -
  1. Charlotte - Her long-term foster parents live just down the coast and she sees them for Sunday lunch about once a month. She works for a catering company and shares a flat with 38DD.
  2. Dawn P who was adopted after being orphaned. She had a horrid falling out with them in 2009 and her only regular contact with them is a letter at Christmas.
  3. Di from Leeds - she now lives in Preston but decided to keep the same user name. She has been a monthly email correspondent with Ella and I for several years and we speak on the phone every few months.
  4. 38DD is a combination of a saint and a star. Within a week of moving to Blackpool she had three jobs and when most people would have grumbled like mad about living in a caravan until the worker she was replacing worked out his notice she just got on with it. Eventually she found a flat to share with Charlotte and they have shared amicably ever since. 38DD always phones us at the same time, 10:30AM on a Sunday, so if the phone rings then we always know who is calling us.
  5. Northpier1 is something of a “man of mystery”. Didi first met him when she was on a course at the Blackpool and the Fylde College. He seems to have spells of looking affluent with a decent car and smart clothes and spells of riding a bike to work looking distinctly the worse for wear. He claims to have spent two years (15 to 17) in a Children’s Home and there is nothing to suggest that this isn’t true. When Didi and 38DD visited him, unexpectedly, at his bed-sit there were zero family photos on show and this is fairly typical of a young person from the background he claimed to have had.
  6. Northpier2 and Didi met not long after Didi arrived at the seaside. Like Didi she had been fostered so they had lots of things in common. At that stage Northpier2 was working just along the prom from Didi and they used to meet up most days. In June 2011 she moved to a job well south of the south pier rather than north of the north pier so Didi didn't bump into her nearly so often. She then disappeared for a while before unexpectedly emailing Didi from a cyber cafe in Berlin to say she was coming home. 
  7. Spiders Web comes along to a few meetings - it seems to depend on where she is in the relationship cycle with whoever is her current boyfriend!
  8. Wobbly is a long-time friend and work colleague of 38DD. She has a background in finance – via her foster Dad. 
The attendance sheets are quite sad in a way. All those names and contact details of people that came into our lives for a short time and then left - who knows where? I expect that they are spread all over the world by now. 







Thursday, 5 November 2015

How to make friends and influence people - or not!

As regular as clockwork somebody somewhere will write a lengthy grumble about the way that the Former Care Kids community is organised. The moaners and groaners suggest that if only they were put in charge everything would suddenly be wonderful and that it is the hard-core that is blocking all progress. We get bored writing the same things again and again so the next time it happens please direct the guilty party to this blog entry where our position is explained.
You cannot get elected or appointed to be part of the hard-core of activists. You can only become hard-core when the large majority of the other members of the group regard you as such. This tends to require some combination of regional events successfully organised and/or attended plus the length of time people have known about you.

EVENTS ORGANISED - Ella and I would guess that for every event casually proposed about 5% actually happen. People that just attend these events probably never think about all the work involved in organising anything but the most informal and small-scale gathering. Any successful organiser absolutely deserves to be labelled hard-core and that, pretty much, seems to be what has happened.

TIME SERVED - One of the reasons that people will not regard you are hard-core until you have been around for at least a couple of years is the often told story of Mike S. For about three months Mike was one of the most prominent members of the Care Kids Community. He contributed articles to our newsletter, he organised a couple of informal pub-based meetings in Cardiff and in Penarth and he proposed, and also started organising, a proper conference to be held in the Welsh capital. He even attended one of the first "Boxing Day Bashes" and for many he was well on his way to being thought of as one of the hard-core. But then he discovered the wonderful world of a stable relationship with a long-term girlfriend and his involvement with the former "care kids" community gradually faded away. Ella and I haven't heard from him since before Alice and Nicola were born - so 3+ years - although Paul E still sometimes sees him at Barry Island.

HARD CORE DOESN'T EQUAL INNER CIRCLE - Quite often people moan that the hard-core are "just the same as Eve and Ella's inner circle of close friends". This is rubbish! People like Didi and AC/DC are close friends but nobody I know suggests that they are hard-core activists. Paul E is 100% certainly hard-core but we have met him exactly twice so he obviously isn't part of our inner friendship circle. The facts do not back up the allegations.

SO WHO ARE THE HARD CORE? - Five of us are generally accepted as being "Hard-core" activists:-
  • 38DD - Organiser of at least 6 Blackpool or Preston gatherings and has attended many other meetings around the country.
  • Lulu Big Tits - Organiser of Birmingham Mega Meet and the Birmingham Conference.
  • Paul E - Runs the Barry Boxing Day Bash and authored the Red Griffin Newsletter.
  • Eve and Ella - Organise the Christmas Open House and are long term bloggers and newsletter editors.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Have you missed us?

We missed our usual Friday posting because we were getting ready for a few days away in Cambridgeshire. All four of us managed to co-ordinate taking parts of our annual leave and we had a lovely time together. We had two adjacent rooms in a slightly soulless hotel. 

It was always a slightly anxious time when the six of us went to eat our breakfast or evening meal there but Nicola and Alice behaved really well and we were proud of them. It did surprise us that so many other parents allowed their children to run around or make a lot of noise instead of expecting them to sit fairly quiet and fairly still when eating in public. We must be stricter parents than we realised.

Nicola and Alice understand the idea of taking turns and so when we did something that was more for the parents than the children, like visiting the cathedral, they would ask us , "Is it Mummy's turn now?". That made me smile every time. The two of them spent ages looking for God inside the cathedral but (just about!) accepted my explanation that he must have been hiding from them.

As always Ella and I had 1 complete day "off duty" when we went off on our own leaving the two little ones to be looked after by the two Dads. This is good for all six of us - just for different reasons!  

In the morning we met up with London based Cert in a Skirt in St Albans. She was practically abandoned by her parents when she turned 18. Her parents went off to the Gulf at almost zero notice and without making any proper financial provision for her. She saw one of our first adverts, by a “freak of chance” as she put it, and has been a friend and subscriber ever since.

Cert in a Skirt's story is one of the few that makes us feel really cross rather than sad. Her parents cold-bloodedly lied to her over a period of over 12 months including telling her a total fairy story about why the family home had been sold. They gave her just 5 weeks notice that they were leaving the country and it is hardly surprising that the parent-child relationship has never recovered.
After about an hour Pinky ( a librarian) and Natasha (a care worker) arrived to join us.  We have known Pinky for ages but hadn't seen him face-to-face for some years. When he left the Children's Home he vanished to Spain for 2 years, then came back to England and started posting to the newsletter. Then he vanished again and only fairly recently got back in touch. Natasha is his long-term girl friend and it was nice to meet her for the first time in ages. We all had a light lunch together before going our separate ways.

In our case it was a few miles south to where we had tea with Crystal. When we first heard from Crystal she was a mature student on an "Access to Higher Education" course but now she is now a graduate with a history degree. She first found Ella and I when she was doing some research for an academic project and she contacted us by phone for some information on the funding attached to Looked After Children. In those days we were far more casual about giving out our contact details, we would never do that now!

The entire holiday was a great success - we even managed to avoid the rain that the weather man kept mentioning.



Thursday, 15 October 2015

Yes my BPs HAVE done a runner

Yes they have done a runner.
Ella here. My birth parents Mr and Mrs Nut Job seem to have moved to Spain. I got a letter with Spanish stamps on it this week to prove it. It was BFs idea, of course. BM went with him because she doesn't know any better. She has been like this, weak, for the last 10 years. My BM isn't totally bad. But she cannot imagine working for a living or making a decision. I just try to defend her in my head by thinking she still loves me. 
And she isn't happy in Spain. Why doesn't that surprise me? He has found things to do, mainly building related and probably iffy. She just sits at home waiting for him to come back. She doesn't speak Spanish and doesn't want to. So her only semi-friends are other bored ex-English wives.
She wants to come home. He doesn't. No prizes for guessing who wins. I'm not expecting to see him again, probably ever. As soon as I saw the moan "Where would I live if I did come home?" I knew what was coming. She wants to live in our house. Knowing her no money status she would want it rent free. She hasn't worked since I was born, she has no skills any employer would want. She would never get a "proper job", which to her means being in charge. She would never be any good at a minimum wage job because she has too many expensive habits. I just do not see her in a small flat working in a zero hours contract job at minimum wages but that is all she can expect.
Anyway all the people they conned in the UK are still here. Still waiting for their money so her short holiday in the sun hasn't solved anything has it? BF still has a drink problem, a violence problem and a brain problem. It is now just in Spain rather than over here.
Since I have already been disinherited it is amazing that she thinks I should support  her!

Friday, 9 October 2015

Why Ella and I never say goodbye

Goodbye is a word that Ella and I no longer use. I think the last time I can definitely remember using it was on our final day at the Children's Home when we "timed out" from Care at 18. That was a day that neither of us will ever forget and some years later I wrote a poem about how Ella and I felt that Friday. It was a weird tradition at the Children's Home that anybody leaving had a formal goodbye speech and final message from the Manager during their last breakfast. Just so unpleasant for most of those involved!

Our last day 

The long restless night is over – the Home begins to stir.
To stir, to wake with long familiar sounds. Voices, water rushing through the pipes. But no rushing for us today. A Friday with no rushing? How strange.
Strange is not the proper word. Our last day here. Today we’re moving on. Moving on and moving out. The Queen is dead – long live the King.
Big Al is King now. The oldest and toughest one left now we have gone. Will people know or care that we have gone? Off to our council flats.

Not a flat as was agreed but separate flats. Well away from school and here. Separate flats how cruel. For 40 months we lived as one. No more. 

Breakfast – our final meal. Now we’re separate from the rest, apart, special. 

The cook, for years our special friend, comes to say goodbye. Sadness visits us. Sadness as we look around, faces, names, stories from our past. Vanishing. 

Our past? The Home is in our past. Bags are packed and goodbyes said. The Home is quiet but school is noisy now. We wait for our promised lift. 

So much we were promised. All packs of lies. They told us what we want to hear. 

The car. Pack our lives into the car. Then a last look around, the Home is not our home. 

A wave. A tear. A short car trip - a silent, sad car trip. Two separate flats for us. 

Two lives were one, then two again. How cruel.
We don't like the word "goodbye" because it seems so final. Almost as if you don't expect to see the person again. Permanent separation from family or other people that you have grown fond of can be a too familiar part of life to foster children and "goodbye" feels like part of that.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Visitors come to stay!

I need to explain to readers that don't know me personally who some of characters in this blog entry are otherwise things will be even more complicated to follow than normal! Didi and Magda are two of our (Eve and Ella's) closest friends. Until recently Didi was the Assistant Manager of a hotel in Gloucestershire and Magda worked in ICT a couple of miles away. Didi and Magda are "an item" and they lived together in the flat that goes with Didi's job.

Didi and Magda both have new jobs and they are currently residing in our spare room for the simple reason that both are now employed within three miles of our house. Yes the two of them have waved goodbye to Gloucestershire and have waved hello to the slightly less classy county of Worcestershire.

Didi is still an Assistant Manager of a hotel but it is a bigger and better hotel and so the job carries with it a bigger and better salary. Didi left her former post when her salary review was postponed for the third time and because she was tired of being mucked around. After she handed in her notice the Regional Manager tried to get her to stay but rightly, in our view, she told him, nicely, that once you have burned your employment bridges you should let them stay burned.

Magda arrived here a couple of days later, wondered into the city looking for work and then wondered back here two hours later with a job that started the following Monday. Now that is good going even for girl with her ICT skills! I didn't realise until I saw her passport that Magda is a British Citizen and not Norwegian as I had always thought. Her father is Norwegian but since Magda's mother was British and Magda was born in the UK she is also British. Just to complicate things Magda's parents currently do live in Norway!

Within a few days Didi and Magda found a house to rent. The current occupants are moving out at the middle of October so the two of them will be staying with us until then. It is a fair sized house, far larger than the staff flat they had lived in previously, so they will need to buy some additional furniture. On the plus side it is now much easier for them to have friends to stay.

It goes without saying that we are thrilled by the thought of seeing our best friends weekly rather than monthly so it is big smiles in our house at the moment.

Friday, 25 September 2015

I would like to complain - oh dear!

The 2015 Mega Meet Conference "Care Kids at 18+ - what happens next?"

A few days after the conference finished an open letter was sent out by 7 former "care kids" from the Newcastle area expressing concerns about almost every aspect of the event. None of the seven had attended the conference and in four out of seven cases neither Ella and I had ever had any previous communication from the writer.

Concern #1 - The conference should have been held in Newcastle as promised to them in November 2014 and that the decision to move the venue to Birmingham was taken by a "unrepresentative clique".

Our response - We are not aware of any promise being made to hold the conference in Newcastle and the "Newcastle Seven" don't say who made this promise to them or under what circumstances. What Ella and I do know is that in October 2014 the three proposals from Birmingham, Blackpool and Newcastle were circulated to every person who had asked to see them and that the deadline for comments was December 15th 2014. I wonder if an over-optimistic prediction by one of the Newcastle Organising Committee was misinterpreted?

Over 100 people voted on the decision as to where the conference should be held. The counting was done by a mutually agreed person with no close friendship links to those directly involved. Newcastle came third out of three (easily) with 18 votes. We don't know how the process could have been any fairer or more transparent than that?

Concerns #2, 3 - These can be taken together because they are so closely linked.

I don't agree that the catchment areas for Birmingham and Newcastle are "fairly similar" either in terms of area or population. Worcester to Newcastle is about 4 hours and Birmingham to Newcastle is over 3 hours so using their own figures of 90-120 minutes as an ideal maximum travelling time I don't think most of the 2015 delegates living south of Leeds would have driven up to Newcastle.

Concern #4 - This was the only concern that was directed firmly at Ella and I. The claim is that we used the sponsorship we had obtained to convince "anybody who would listen" to hold the conference at our choice of location, that is Birmingham.

We worked mega hard to obtain £5,000 worth of sponsorship. So yes it would have been disappointing if a venue had been chosen that was too far north for us to travel to BUT we made it 100% clear than none of the sponsorship was conditional on a particular venue being chosen.

I strongly suspect that almost every voter supported their closest venue and that those who didn't vote at all would not, or could not, have attended any of the proposed sites.

General Points -
If the "Newcastle Seven" want the 2016 conference to be held in the north of England then I suggest that Leeds would be a better bet than Newcastle. It is entirely possible that the Blackpool and Birmingham sub-groups would support a bid from Leeds and those of us within a hour of Birmingham to the SW, S or SE would probably make the effort to attend. But it is also possible that other bids will be made, I think that a joint Bristol and S Wales bid is being discussed so nobody should assume that Leeds would be the automatic victors.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Random thoughts on a "Care Kids" newsletter

Back in October 2009 Ella and I started an email newsletter that went out to 16 people. Almost all the subscribers were friends of ours from the Children's Home where we had lived from the start of year 10 at school until we "timed out" at 18.

Right from the start we sent it out by blind copy. This meant that nobody was able to see who else was receiving the newsletter and, more important, all contact details were kept confidential. Several of the readers had nasty people in their past who they never wanted to meet again so this seemed like a sensible precaution to take. All subscribers also decided to adopted a system of "user names" which they always used when contributing to the newsletter - this seemed to give everybody involved an extra sense of security.

The years went by and the number of subscribers gradually crept up to three figures. Most of these new readers found out about us by personal recommendation and were often already known to a reasonable number of the existing readers who would then vouch for them.

But by 2011 the system was beginning to creak mainly because Ella and I took something of a calculated risk by allowing people to be put on the mailing list purely on the basis of a single recommendation from a current member. With hindsight what happened was almost inevitable - we picked up a few trolls and a few religious fanatics.

In early 2014 Ella and I accepted that we couldn't continue acting as the editors of the newsletter but making the joint decision to step down wasn't easy. We shed lots of tears but in our hearts we knew what had to happen before things started to go wrong - which certainly would have happened if we had spread ourselves any thinner!

The roles of the editor
  1. Attracting new readers to replace those who resigned or who were expelled or who just drifted away. This was never easy because people who haven't been in a children's home or in foster care generally have little or no interest in people who were forced down this route. Even the specialist groups that exist to support foster carers usually have nothing on offer for former foster children and many groups are still reluctant to publicise our existence! When Didi and 38DD took over running the newsletter from Ella and I they worked really hard on this problem. Virtually all the new readers they have signed up are younger than Ella and I and this means that we sometimes feel that there is a gulf opening starting to open between the long term subscribers and these newcomers.
  2. Dealing with spies in the camp - Just occasionally there would be something about the initial email from a possible new subscriber that would set alarm bells ringing in my head. Most times it wouldn't be anything that I could put into words, more of a 6th sense that the writer perhaps wasn't all they claimed to be. Asking for more details would normally put my mind at rest but sometimes I was forced to decline an application without knowing for certain if that had been the correct thing to do.
  3. Accidentally giving too much away. It is surprisingly easy for people to give away too much personal information without realising it and it is part of the editor's role to make certain that this doesn't happen. Didi did a detailed case study on this and we were shocked when we realised that a determined "detective" could have worked out within a few streets exactly where Ella and I lived. It would have taken years rather than months and it would have required somebody to have access to all the old issues of the newsletter but it was certainly possible! 

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Making something that is good even better.

The 2015 Mega Meet Conference  - lessons we learned

Our close friend Lulu Big Tits did most of the work setting up the conference with a small team helping her once the event had started. She has now made it quite clear that she will never organise a conference on her own again! She has created a folder of hints and tips that she will pass on to the next group leader once the venue has been agreed.

By far the most important advice is to get everything in writing because if you don't the hotel managers will cheerfully break the promises they have made to you previously. As an example we were promised sole use of the restaurant from 1800hrs to 2000hrs but when Lulu and Ella arrived at 17:40 to put out the seating plan the restaurant manager was just about to put a family of 4 on one of our reserved tables. But because Lulu had the proof of what had been agreed he had to "unseat them" again. I gather the family were not very impressed! 
The 2000 to 2200 hours "gap" - This was something that we hadn't thought through properly and I'm pleased that a three people mentioned on their feedback sheets so that future conference organisers can get it right next time. "After the meal finished the delegates tended to split up into friendship groups and either sit in the bar in a close-knit group or depart together to who knows where. I attended the conference on my own and I felt rather ignored and abandoned on the Saturday evening. Next time could something be organised for people like me?" 
On the other hand the last minute decision to introduce allocated seating for the evening meals while initially being unpopular ended up being a great success that was widely praised!  "I had been rather dreading the meals. It can be quite stressful when you have to wonder around the tables looking for a seat that hasn't been taken only to find when you do find a seat that the other 7 on the table all know each other."
The only other major issue was the gender balance of the delegates. We, as a group, didn't managed to get many lads to come along. It was a fraction over 20% which was disappointing so if anybody had any ideas what to do about this please say something.

Kristine and Alex - still former foster kids activists!

We met Kristine and Alex for the one and only time in August 2011 at the home of a mutual friend in Sunderland. They were so like Ella and I in many ways but so different from us in others! Their background of multiple unsuccessful foster placements and time spent in a Children's Home pretty much mirrored ours and like Ella and I they were in a mutual long-term relationship. They were also active members of a self-help group.

BUT - politically they were "Hard Left" activists and they were clearly surprised that we were fairly mainstream New Labour. I don't think they have ever got over this! They saw their - and it was very much their - self-help group more as part of the class struggle with any mutual support aspects a bonus rather than a core function.

We have stayed in casual contact with them but none of us have never suggested swapping membership lists or meeting up. Ella (who is much better than me at picking up on these things) has the impression that their group is about 20 to 25 strong but with very little coming and going of members. Our friendship circles currently don't overlap (as far as we know) so we only know what they choose to tell us and they only know what we choose to tell them!

I think the gap between Kristine and Alex and Ella and I is widening rather than closing. Education, employment, marriage and parenthood have all changed us a lot in the last few years while Kristine and Alex still seem like the firebrands they were when we met them in 2011. But they have a part in our lives, they have the right to be heard and we share a common interest in former Care Kids.

We wish them well, despite anything some people have said to the contrary!

We regard so much of what we do as giving and receiving emotional, financial or practical advice or support. In our time in charge and since Didi and 38DD took over the group had never been political. In a non-nasty way we don't understand where Kristine and Alex are coming from but presumably their friends and long-term subscribers are happy enough.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A conference for former "Care Kids"

Our impressions of the 2015 Mega Meet Conference "Care Kids at 18+ - what happens next?"

Initially there were five proposals for the venue for the 2015 Mega Meet but two of these (London and Glasgow) were ruled out on financial grounds (London) or due to the lack of local contacts to do the ground work (Glasgow).

That left three possible venues for the meeting: Newcastle, Blackpool and Birmingham. It is no secret that Ella and I had some reservations about the suitability of Newcastle but our financial support for the event was never going to depend on where the meeting was held. I hope we made this quite clear to the Newcastle Organising Committee.

We didn't have any strong preference between Blackpool and Birmingham until the event was moved from May to August - in other words from school term time to school holiday time. Once that happened we felt that Birmingham was always going to be the cheapest and easiest option.

I think the first key question is how many people who would have attended a meeting in Newcastle didn't attend the meeting in Birmingham? I can only think of two - Kristine and Alex although I know that some people are saying that several Scottish members would have made the effort to get to Newcastle. Perhaps they would?  What I do know is that at least 4 attendees from the Worcestershire group and nearly as many from the Powys/Shropshire group would not have gone to Newcastle.

The second question is how many people would have gone to Blackpool who didn't make it to Birmingham.  Reckless Eric is the only one I can think of. But the four North Londoners actually said during the plenary session that they wouldn't have driven as far as Blackpool but that Birmingham had been "simple" to get to.

I still think that organising the meeting is far too big a job for one person. I think two is the minimum and three would be better still. At least one of the Organising Committee members needs to have convenient access to the proposed location.  I would like to rule out Birmingham (on the grounds of fairness) and Worcester (on the grounds on geography) but as always the final decision is made by you all - not by Ella and I.

The feedback forms prove that Friday evening to Sunday tea-time seemed to work well although a few people were not able to arrive until Saturday morning or had to leave before the plenary session on the Sunday afternoon. Attendees had the financial responsibility to get themselves to the venue but everything else was free and this was widely appreciated by everybody. The balance between the social side and the more formal meeting side was seen to be correct (thank goodness!) and the guest speaker received an unbroken series of 5/5 from everyone who attended.

There was an almost unanimous agreement that the "disconnect" between Care Providers (foster parents, social workers and Children's Home employees) and the post-18 clients is wholly undesirable.
  1. Attempts to create closer links between national groups and the "former Care Kids" community have been largely unsuccessful.
  2. Comments posted to relevant Facebook groups or blogs by members of the community are almost always ignored. 
  3. National organisations appear to feel that the community has nothing to offer them and so letters or review copies of books sent to them seldom if ever receive a response.
  4. There are some public self-help groups for former "Care Kids" but it is assumed that many other such groups - if they exist - operate "under the radar".
  5. Many former Care Kids are extremely wary of social media. A large proportion have highly sanitised user profiles or are mega cautious about what they post. Many have resorted to using false names. 
It was lovely to meet people face-to-face that previously were only voices on the phone or names on the computer screen and it was equally nice to renew contact with people we don't see very often. Ella and I travelled up to Birmingham with Didi and Magda by car, picking up AaBbCc from his narrow-boat for the last few miles. Our journey was painless, unlike Miss Peanut's who had a complete nightmare of a trip from Hull. Also attending from fairly near us were Commune1, her half-sister Yalelock and Airhead in one car plus Abigail, Birdwatcher, Wendy C and Zulu in another.

It was disappointing not to see Reckless Eric (yet again, we seem fated never to meet) and of course we missed both Kristine and Alex. After much looking through diaries Ella decided that it almost exactly four years since we last saw them "in the flesh".

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Children in Care and their memory gaps

It was while she was pregnant that Ella started to get concerned about a small, highly specific, memory loss. In the end she went to the doctor with a list of questions.  

Is it normal to have gaps in your memory? The time from being taken away from Mr Nut Job to meeting Eve in the Home is very bitty in my head. Eve calls it a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing!
  1. I can remember being called out of a lesson. Being taken to the Head Teacher’s office then a long trip in the back of a car.
  2. I can remember a 100% gross examination and holding on to a lady's hand. Having hysterics! Lots of questions, some that I didn't understand.
  3. I can remember going to a strange house with lots of goldfish in a tank. Not wanting any food just a drink.
  4. I can remember just sitting on a bed in borrowed pyjamas (blue stripped). Not being able to find the toilet so I used the one downstairs.
  5. I can remember the top level of a multi-story car park with a glass lift. There was a lady with twins carrying green plastic bags to the car.
  6. I can remember arriving at the Home and seeing a squirrel in the garden. I didn't know what a Home was - nobody explained it to me.
  7. I can remember meeting Eve. She shared things with me and helped me fit in. She told me what boys to avoid!
  8. All the rest is missing except tiny little bits. Perhaps it is best I don't remember it all? But is doesn't seem to make much sense does it? Too much missing!
The doctor wasn’t much help so Ella just had to come live with the gaps!
Ella's memory gaps are genuine - she cannot recall things that certainly did happen. But I'm not convinced that all my memory gaps are as real as assorted social workers would have me believe. I have seen the minutes of various meetings - about failed placements and the like - where I was listed as being present but where I have zero recall of the contents ever being discussed in my presence. As ever I am more than a little suspicious of things social workers say, especially if blame is being shared out!










The doctor wasn’t much help so Ella just had to come live with the gaps.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Shaking hands with your daughter - gross!

In late 2010 I (Eve) made my first serious effort to re-establish contact with my Birth Father. It was never going to be easy and I don’t know, looking back, if was a sensible thing to have attempted.  After all the earlier meeting with my Birth Mother on her own hadn't gone particularly well!

Even after many years apart would you try to shake hands on meeting your own daughter – no I thought not. My Dad tried to though. My Mum had reminded me of me in some ways and Dad was clearly under her control. How he made the shed loads of money he clearly had made was a complete mystery and I could only think that he must be very different in the real world.

Throughout their married life when faced with a problem they just seem to have thrown money at it. Problems don’t seem to have an emotional component as far as they are concerned and when talking to me they really struggled to see the situation from my perspective. The sort of things they seemed to want to do was to “normalise the situation” (their exact words) is to include me in their Will and contribute to the cost of my house move. Nice practical things, no emotional component to confuse the issue.

Then I saw the two of them together. Mum has always claimed to all involved that she has been suffering from depression since she was a teenager and this was “the explanation, rather than the excuse” (her words again) for what happened in the past. I was not certain what Mum told me was entirely truthful. I was not even sure if she really knew or remembered the whole truth any more. Every now and again she would slip back into political mode (she was briefly a high-achiever in local politics) and she left me wondering if everything inside her head was entirely normal. I suspected not.

I ended up being quite happy to meet with them both from time to time and even to accept their money. They would need to accept that was unlikely that they will never be a major influence on me in the way that others were and I suspected (in 2010/2011) that this was going to be a problem moving forward.
And of course I was right! My Mother has never bonded with Alice (coming up 3) and she still seems to be in denial about historical facts. I tend to write to her rather than phone so there is always a record of what has been agreed - and if you think that is rather strange you would be right! 

Friday, 14 August 2015

20 blog reviews - is your blog included?

Premier League Blogs

I love this blog. I have wracked my brain to find a single caveat that I could use to create the impression of editorial balance but I have failed miserably.  

Every entry has got me thinking and many of them have made me re-assess where I stand on a whole range of issues. The number of blogs that have had this impact on me is exactly three – and this is one of them! 

Score 10/10

I love this blog so much. It is stuffed with good ideas and sheer common sense in a writing style that makes you feel that you are just chatting with a long-term friend in the pub or in the JCR. 

There are so many little gems to be found in this blog that I am in awe of the author. Yes, it really is that good!

Score 10/10

I’m in my 20s so I suppose it is almost inevitable that I am going to feel more empathy towards a blogger who has been round the block a few times than I would towards a 16 or 17 year old. 

Lengthy and thoughtful posts that will have an impact on Ella and I are something to treasure and I hope this blog will be around for years! 

Score 10/10 
I love therapeutic blogs. But of course I’m biased because I wrote a therapeutic blog/newsletter for several years. This guy is a writer, don’t have any doubt about this. I read his entire blog in a single session and that is almost unprecedented for me. 
OK so I’m a nosey girl but I would have liked to have known a bit more about what went wrong when he was at university. In my experience writing a “warts and all” blog is more helpful to the author than writing a sanitised version. 
Score 10/10 

Championship Blogs
I have to admit that I have met the author of this blog but only twice and only for a total of 1 hour. The blog started in July 2013 and there have been 75 entries since then so it scores highly on reliability. This is a niche blog, a blog that all of us hope that we would never need to read, but I think it is worth supporting nevertheless as it deals with coping with bereavement. 
The author is a post-graduate and in the nicest possible way you can tell she is because of the maturity of her writing. 
Score 9/10.

I suppose it is easy to enjoy a blog when you agree, strongly, with the view point of the blogger. But there is more to it than that. When a writer has style, when they can present a reasoned argument and when they know the basics of spelling, punctuation and grammar it easy to get engaged with what is on offer. 

The blog owner is somewhat older than most – and it shows. 

Score 9/10 

I am not particularly interested in sport – although my husband is – but I was very impressed by both the quality and quantity of material the blogger has created. 

There are so many shocking poor sporting blogs around that I would love this one to be a success just to show what is possible! 

Score 8/10 

Sometimes I find myself enjoying a blog without being able to put into words why the blog works for me. I suppose it is some combination of the content being of interest and the blogger appearing to be a reliable and sensible member of the human race. 

I like this blog and I intend to keep reading it because I’m finding material in almost every posting that will be of value to me. 

Score 8/10 

I enjoy blogs that cover the broad area of creative writing. I want this blog to succeed and to succeed it needs an active readership. I hope that this positive review will encourage the blogger to keep writing. 

Score 8/10


League 1,2 and 3 Blogs 

There is something mildly pretentious about many political blogs that does little to encourage me to become a regular subscriber. When the author writes like a stereotypical Telegraph reader then my enthusiasm drops still further. 

But that said this is rather better than many such blogs. The brief articles are well constructed and put a cogent case forward. Time will tell if the author will be around for a sustained period. Blog entries of this quality take lots of time to write and if circumstances change the blog can often be the first thing to go.

Score 7/10 

They say that it is a good idea to leave the reader wanting more but perhaps this blogger has taken this principle a bit too far. I really enjoyed what I read about finding the inspiration to write – I just would have liked to have read more.

This strikes me as a blog that might stand the test of time so if you see yourself as a author I suggest you add this blog to your reading list.

Score 7/10 

There are far too many university related blogs around and most that are started in the long summer before starting the course don’t make it to the first Christmas. 

But this blog is well above the standard fare offered by most similar blogs. A well written and thoughtful analysis about the academic treadmill suggests to me that this is a blogger who is well worth supporting. 

Score 6/10 

I am usually quite pessimistic about the survival chances of a blog that starts during that curious time between finishing school and starting at university. Once the excitement of “Week One” kicks in and the academic component of university life starts little time is left for blogging. 

That said I would like to see this blog succeed partly because the author writes rather better prose than many new bloggers and partly because I have often wondered what it would be like to study a foreign language at university.

Score 6/10


Minor League Blogs 

This blog is something of an enigma. I’m not clear what the blog is trying to achieve other than perhaps being a meeting place for like-minded writers. Something about it grates, perhaps it feels rather more pushy and commercial than most blogs? 

But if you are a creative writer this might just be what you have been looking for. 

Score 5/10 

I seem to have discovered this blog shortly after it was launched. The first blog entry seemed sensible and quite well-written so I suggest that people support this new blogger by reading and commenting on what is on offer.

That said it is easy to write high quality material once. The best bloggers and blogs tend to have been around for years rather than days so time will tell if this one is going to join the elite group.

Score 4/10 

I have two friends who have recently gone into nursing so I was rather predisposed to be interested in what this blogger was proposing to cover. It is still quite early days for this blog but if the enthusiasm can be maintained then I can see it filling a gap in the market.  

There is something about the current layout that doesn’t quite work. The overall impression looks somewhat messy but the factual content looks sound. 

Score 4/10 

Career related blogs have a ready-made audience and if they are well written and the blogger retains their enthusiasm the blog can run and run.  

The jury is still out on this particular blog simply because only time will tell if the work-load associated with becoming a doctor will allow the blog to keep on appearing. 

Score 4/10 

I don’t like religious blogs and I’m not particularly interested in either food or fashion so a blog that includes these three components has its work cut out to get a good score.

However the blog does have a certain sense of style and it might be that the blogger will attract enough readers to encourage them to continue with this writing project.

Score 3/10 

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. The blog looks good, well above average, but the content is a bit thin and is mainly in areas that don’t appeal to me. So it isn’t a blog that is likely to make it onto my “must read” list. 

Blogging is a fiercely competitive business with loads of me-too blogs around that are almost indistinguishable for hundreds of others. Somehow I don’t think this blog is going to be able to carve out an audience. 

Score 3/10 

Sometimes I get a feeling in my gut about a blogger and their blog. I just “know” that they are not going to be for the long haul partly because of their posting frequency and partly because of what they write and how they write it. 

This quasi-motivational blog fills me with horror but it might be just what another reader is looking for - although somehow I doubt it! 

Score 1/10