Thank you very much for this evening’s lecture. How marvellous that Lauren Booth is going to help the cause, she will do very well for Nacoa with her obvious integrity and professionalism.
I left the Meeting House with tears streaming down my face; they continued all the way on the Tube to Waterloo and then the train home. Listening to her words brought it all back; after every few sentences I wanted to shout out “that was me”. It’s still hard to believe that someone else went through all that. I’m feeling a bit emotional even now as I write this.
We also grew up in a ‘posh’ part of town – off Kings Road, Chelsea – in the 1960’s + 1970’s. My sister and I went to a girls’ Convent School in the next borough, where the nuns all came from aristocratic families. Most of the girls there were posh as well.
There was me and my sister going to School from Monday to Friday for years in the same school clothes that were never washed and were slept in; we were never washed or bathed, and were stick thin, as there was never any food in the house.
I can remember the other girls telling us that we stank and giving us bars of soap for Christmas. I’ve never forgotten that; today I shower at least twice every day and often change my clothes twice as well.
I’m also 5 feet tall and size 22- my brain can’t seem to switch off food; I can eat anything! School dinner was the highlight of my day – think of all the children not even getting those now. Looking back, the nuns must have seen what was going on, but chose not to do anything.
PE was particularly humiliating – our knickers were disgusting compared to everyone else’s. Naturally, we failed all our O Levels. My sister left at 16, but I persuaded school to let me stay for the 6th Form -continuity was everything for me then.
My brother left school on his 14th birthday and never went back- he just bumbed around the streets all day. No one from school ever came looking for him, it must have been easier to truant in the 70’s. He ended up as one of the gang of punk rockers that used to congregate at the shop called “Sex” owned by Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren who lived a few doors away from us. They might have been feared, but the ones I met all came from broken homes – at least V & M gave them shelter and a reason to be. Perhaps these kids were the forerunners to the ones out on the streets today?
Listening to Lauren reminded me of one of my earliest memories. It’s night time, I’m lying on a mattress in my parents bedroom, and watching my mum pour paraffin (we had those heaters) over my dad who’s asleep in their bed. She goes to light a match. I don’t really understand what I’m seeing but know something’s wrong.
I run to Dad and shake him as hard as I can shouting “Dad wake up wake up”. He does, but he’s a bit groggy from drink. Mum runs like a bat out of hell from the room with dad close behind. The next few minutes are scary as they fight in the kitchen – the noise is horrendous as things fly around – God knows there was nothing worth breaking in there. I go and look for my sister and my little brother; find them under his bed, shaking. We spent the night there. I don’t remember anyone coming to look for us.
We never brought anyone we knew back home – I wouldn’t say we had ‘friends’ as such, too smelly I expect. Lauren describes her house in terms I understand so well – she said that her kitchen was the worst; in our house it was the toilet.
I can’t describe the terror we felt having to use it when we were little – a very old large porcelain basin, never cleaned, no lid, where the cistern often didn’t work and everything was allowed to pile up. We all fell into it more than once, until big enough to perch on the edge safely. I don’t remember any potties.
My parents were Irish Catholics who came to London in the 1950’s. We went to Church every Sunday, did all the Holy Communion, Confession, Confirmation bits etc. We were also the family where the parents lived in the pubs at the Worlds End, whilst us 3 lived on the pub doorsteps with bottles of lemonade sent out every hour, and if we were lucky and they remembered, some crisps.
My Dad would get paid in cash on Friday night, go straight to the local, buy everyone there several drinks and come home broke. My mum decided one day to join him, and it became the norm. They were the most popular people in the Irish Community on Friday nights. As he got barred from the pubs one by one for his behaviour, we would just all trek to Fulham pubs and start again there.
Dad was well known at Chelsea Police, where he spent a lot of nights in the cells for drunk and disorderly. He was also known for his violence when absolutely paralytic. Lauren’s comments about the policewoman backing away were so right – Chelsea Police did that to us time and time again.
One night, dad had smashed a broken bottle into Mum’s face, leaving her with a large gaping hole in her forehead showing lots of white bone; I remember throwing up at the sight of it. The police were called, saw the mess and blood everywhere, shrugged their shoulders and walked out again.
How I was never caught shoplifting I do not know. Looking back, I think the local shopkeepers must have known what I did, but turned a blind eye, we were well known about. It was only ever food though – nothing else. It never occurred to me to try and steal clothes or anything else – we’d never had those things anyway. I’m very grateful not to have been caught – I would never have been given my job with a criminal record.
My mum died from her drinking – she went to bed very drunk one day, holding a lit cigarette. She was alone in the house – I came home at 8pm to clouds of smoke – couldn’t understand what had happened, went into her room, and slid all the way over towards the bed on some ‘goo’, landing on my back.
I could feel mum in the bed. There were no lights on (the electric had probably run out again), so I ran outside screaming and a neighbour called the fire brigade. The Police got there first, took one look and said to me “she’s dead”, just like that.
They asked where my dad was. I knew he’d be in the pub across the road, so I ran there and told him. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and ordered another round. I ran back to the house. The fire brigade and an ambulance was there now.
The police asked me again where dad was – I told them. They went straight to the pub and brought him back to the house. When asked what had happened, he said to all assembled emergency services “good riddance”. He was promptly arrested on suspicion of murder and spent the next 2 nights in the cells. We spent the next few nights at very reluctant neighbours. It was almost the local park, but they took pity on us.
The post mortem found that mum had been very drunk, vomited, inhaled the vomit and died. The cigarette had fallen into the bed and set it smouldering – it had been going several hours when I got home and the ‘goo’ turned out to be a mix of melted body and mattress filling.
Dad died a few years later from pneumonia – also a legacy of his drinking. He was found after 3 days by my brother in the flat they shared – wondered why he hadn’t left his room for a while and went in to see.
Every day I thank God for meeting my husband when I did. I was 16 and he was a teacher (today he’d probably go inside for going out with me). He saw just enough to get me out of home and look after me.
The list that Lauren pointed out in your brochure – every one of those points describes me, including the lies – I still do that occasionally. I am often accused of exaggeration as well, and no, there’s no good reason for it at all. I have a lovely 14 year old daughter, my husband’s still around 30 years later and I have a good job, so I must be doing something right. But acting ‘normally’? Never!
My big regret today is that I left my sister and brother behind at home. Mum was gone and they had to fend for themselves. At the time, I could only think of myself, and I was in love, and thrilled to get out of there, anyway they were 17 & 16, they could cope, I thought.
At 21 years old, my sister hanged herself from the stair banisters – Dad found her. My brother today is unemployable, himself an alcoholic with mental problems, living on benefits. We have not spoken for over 20 years, he still resents me for ‘getting out’, leaving him behind. I understand that completely and respect his wish to leave him alone.
Even after all these years, I would love to see my parents again if they popped back to earth. It doesn’t matter what parents do to you, you still go on loving them anyway. And my sister? I’d ask why she did it.