“At twelve an a half years old” she tells me widening her eyes “nearly thirteen” . Thenearly-ness of six months had great significance . “And how long did it go on” I asked “a year and an half” she replies. So that takes me to eleven years old. I was just a child I said to my foster mother.
I wanted to know. I had always wanted to know how a child to whom they had declared themselves parents in unconditional love forever, a child who knew them to be mum and dad could be so unceremoniously dropped in care at “twelve and an half years old, nearlythirteen” never to be contacted again except an occasional unhinged birthday card. None of them contacted me. I was left in childrens homes.... to rot from their lives. And now thirty years later I am told it was I who chose to go into childrens homes
“you were violent” she tells me.
“How was I ‘violent’?” I asked. “
“in the things you said.”
“what did I say?”
“you threatened to hurt Sarah?”
Sarah was my sister, my foster sister. And ofcourse it is ridiculous. The conversation was not as clipped as I am telling it. I listened to long tracts of narrative from Catherine whichended in the aforementioned. My enquiries were as short though. I could see what was happening before my eyes. Catherine Greenwood was continuing a narrative she had upheld for many many years.
“and you chose to leave us”
It is unlucky for them that I became a writer. I am told that at twelve years old after being with them for eleven and an half years I knew I had a way out in the children’s homesand I was taking it.
“Greg tried to convince you otherwise” she continued.
Greg is Greg Haslam, now the senior pastor of Westminster Chapel, the husband ofRuth who is the sister of Catherine my foster mum sat before me now, a sixty seven year old widow at The Southbank centre’s canteen.
I remember distinctly a child trying to convince my foster parents that I did not know about children’s homes. I had been with them since I was 6 months old. The only time I remember hearing the words childrens homes was from them telling me that I was using the idea of childrens homes to rebel against them.
But I was entering adolescence is all. I remember feeling distraught by a narrative being built inside me to which I did not understand. I remember being told and believing that the devil was working inside me. This is something which Catherine Greenwood denies though she admits to believing that “satan” was upon the family.
“We were young. We didn’t know who you were becoming, or what your genes were” she said.
I looked at Catherine across the functional tables of Canteen at southbank centre, in a shock. I was cast into children’s homes and they never called. I was as good as dead. I remember very clearly how meticulously they set up the deceipt.
They were a starving family shipwrecked upon an island. The parents had to decide which child must be eaten for the survival of the others. So terrifying was the processthat they convinced themselves God would choose who must be eaten. When the children enquire after their brother they tell them He must have left us and tried to get break free of the island The parents cried in front of their children as they ate. And their children secretly resented their brother for this. where is this food from asks one of the children. God provides says the mother, tears filling her eyes.
Not having reached adolescence themselves they soon forgot the boy who left and built their lives accordingly. It is poisonous as the memory seeps back . I was a child. The social services does not document any violent behaviour and in fact quite the opposite. I have since befriended the social worker who was with me at the time and have proven as such.
“Did you make any mistakes?”
“ I did ofcourse I did” she said and paused “I listened to you. When you said you wanted to go we should not have listened to you.”
And here I was thirty years later sat in Canteen at Southbank Centre asking how it was that they never called. You see I remember it as clearly as yesterday.
“We were young” she reiterated .
They were in their early thirties. They had just had an extra child, a suprise addition to the family. “ You were suffering post natal depression.” They put me into care. They tried toblame me. And they left me to rot with these conceits and they never called and I was twelve years old after being with them for eleven and an half years under the belief given to me from them that they were my parents and would be forever. It was the most viscious betrayal that any person can do to a child. The evidence of my time in care and since leaving care refutes everything she has said. And, in documented fact, quite the opposite. But at least now I could hear it from the horses mouth.
We’d met at 10.30pm. It was now about noon. As we stand to leave I hold out my arm for Catherine to link me – she finds it hard to walk these days. I escort her to the bus stop “where are you going” I ask “a birthday party in westminster.” She says. I hold no malice towards her. I shall not forgive nor foget. The idea that one must be done for the other to happen is not something I have experienced. Not having a family is made me know that bitterness rots the vessel that carries it and that depression is anger turned in on the self. One of these I have experienced but the other thankfuly I have not.
I stand at the bus stop, wave goodbye to her and cycle home. I’m so tired. Later that day on I travel to Kings Cross train station and take a train to Derby where I stay in an hotel over night for an event I am giving tomorrow. It is for Foster Children and their parents. It's called The Big Book Bash. Last year the special guest was JK Rowling and this year it is me.