In the summer of 1953, aged seven, I arrived with my father at the port of Southampton from the colony of Nigeria, making for Ledsham Court School, a boarding school in St Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. It was a stately building sitting in many green acres. After about an hour with the headmistress, Mrs Redfarn, my father said goodbye, turned and returned to Nigeria. I did not know then that I would not see or hear from him for ten years, by which time I had forgotten what he looked like.
Ledsham’s only black pupil began his academic life speaking no English. I was duly placed in the kindergarten with daily lessons in the native tongue. After catching up with my age group, in addition to the core subjects I was thereafter given instruction in Latin, ancient Greek, poetry and nature study. To eradicate ‘that funny African accent’ I was solely accorded a daily class of elocution for a year — one hour a day with a speech therapist, held in a long, oak-panelled gallery with a book on my head to improve my deportment. Although in receipt of the beginnings of a good classical education, I was also given what I came to understand was a prototypical quantity of punishment for ‘a darkie’ — for most of that first year I was caned daily and frequently ‘sent to Coventry’ for the slightest indiscretion, usually for not understanding the customs and traditions of an alien white culture. Thus for refusing to eat salad on my first day, I received three of the best. The staff were undoubtedly ignorant of the eggs that parasites can lay on raw vegetables in a tropical climate like Nigeria, where all vegetables were cooked and salad was unheard of. Perhaps, I thought with a child’s naivety, that with all the mosquitoes and eating of salad, no wonder West Africa was called the white man’s grave in my books and comics. I woke up — for I had clearly landed in the mother country in the wrong skin colour. It hurt.
I had arrived knowing myself to be Yoruba. Suddenly I was called ‘coloured’ and ‘darkie’. Plainly vexed by my presence, several teachers and pupils resorted to belittling taunts and name-calling. It was made worse by there being nobody to whom I could appeal. Despite the daily onslaught on my race, I found first one white friend and then two more. Because of those friends, I am also able to recall good times during my time there.
Regrettably after five years, my father could not sustain the fees. I had to leave Ledsham Court School. Still now I see the carriage drive at the moment of departure. The headmistress tearfully removed the crucifix from around her neck and placed it around mine, before the car driven by her husband took me away. It was the kindest act I had received from an adult in my time there. I was utterly distraught. Leaving behind the few people I knew and cared for, I belonged to nowhere, again. I felt an outcast, again.
In the Empire mentality of the 1950’s, when the ethic of white superiority was axiomatic, when class division seemed a hierarchical pillar of the populace and when there were no rights legislation on the Statute Books, anything and everything happened to children of colour, especially to children who had further transgressed by apparently belonging to nobody.
On the long, very scary, downwards skid from one middling school to another, from foster home to foster home, the London County Council was my final arrester wire. My temporary home for the next six months was Earlsfield House Reception Centre in Swaffield Road in Wandsworth. Beechholme Children’s Home in Banstead, Surrey was to be permanent. At first sight, an onlooker would perceive a sought-after suburban estate, befitting its Surrey surroundings. Established either side of a long salubrious avenue lined by mature trees, it possessed substantial properties and lawns sitting in pacific order. But in truth, it felt like a place for outcasts; a State boarding school without the trimmings of private education. Had I broken some law to be sent there? Nobody would tell me what I had done. A curse like the mark of Cain settled upon me.
Managed by the London County Council, Beechholme comprised twenty-four houses all named after trees, housing boys and girls in dormitories, constructed on an isthmus of land between the railway line and Fir Tree Road. Halfway down the avenue was the administration block, opposite the junior school and the war memorial. At one end of the leafy thoroughfare was a gymnasium and at the other end, a thirty-bed sick bay in the charge of Sister ‘Killer’ Thompson SRN. There were some thirty-three buildings in all on the site, including a covered swimming pool and the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, destroyed by a fire in 1968, a laundry, press shop, shoe repairer, clothes shop and scout and guide huts.
These facilities enabled Beechholme to be more or less self-sufficient. The cottages were each run semi-independently by house-parents with Superintendent G A Banner, his deputy ‘Taffy’ Evans and the matron, Miss Hoare, overseeing the whole. Given such a large number of houses ‘managed’ by a motley collection of often untrained and sometimes despotic house-parents gifted with unfettered power, there were many Beechholmes, each with its own precarious ecosystem.
I was placed, aged thirteen, in Acacia with housemother, Miss Hawkins and three other female members of staff. There were about fourteen to sixteen boys and girls, each displaying shifting shades of despondency — from parental desertions and neglect, orphan fatigue, bullying or some other sort of abuse. I think there was one other black child who was much younger. Feeling numbed and humiliated by my whirlwind ejection and downfall from a private boarding school, I attempted to make a new set of friends. Shunned by the majority of the white children, I got by with the few who befriended me.
Gale Parsons was one such friend. Noting the spurning on my arrival, she appointed herself to ‘look after’ me and show me the ropes. Younger than I and being the product of rejection and discrimination, she displayed no bigotry towards me and called me by my given name. Momentarily, she became my anchor, with no price attached. Yet on that first encounter, I felt she was stricken by an emotional frailty I had not the maturity to understand. She had odd habits seemingly borne from the stress of deep unhappiness. Several years after leaving Beechholme, my friend Gale died alone, a beggarly heroin addict, off the Thames Embankment. Her lasting epitaph is the BBC2 Man Alive series documentary Gale is Dead. Directed by Jenny Barraclough in 1970 it tells of Gale’s nineteen difficult years on this earth. In the span of a lifetime, my time with Gale was a brief encounter, but one that had an enduring effect on me.
I saw no evidence that the powers that be in Beechholme manifestly tried to comprehend ‘odd behaviour’. You were either all right or you were not. Those who were not all right were said to be ‘overactive’, ‘underactive’ or ‘round the bend’. It was that clear-cut. Whilst some may say that mental health is a discipline inching towards adolescence, at Beechholme, there were no signs that it was even in its infancy. Then there was the other major institution in our neighbourhood, Belmont. A few miles from Beechholme stood Belmont Hospital, specialising in psychiatric medicine, called the ‘nuthouse’. With blood-curdling gossip swirling about escaped patients, credited with all manner of crazed deeds, we regarded our institutional neighbour with the greatest trepidation. In our unfettered imaginations, Belmont was a terrifying Bedlam. Yet some of us were living beside those with ‘problems’, labelled by uninformed staff as ‘introverted’, ‘bonkers’ and ‘loonies’, etc. And as children, we replicated what we heard. For children like my friend Gale, those fears became a later reality.
Acacia held two dormitories and staff bedrooms on the first floor and a sitting room, dining room and kitchen on the ground floor. The large detached ‘cottage’ had a tarmac yard at the rear. Vested with naked power, the members of staff dispensed justice. By turns fair-minded and capricious, they determined right and wrong and their word was law. When I asked for a comb, a staffer retorted:
‘Coloureds don’t need combs.’
That was that and there was no appeal — my hair remained uncomfortably and unsightly knotted.
If they deemed a wrongdoing justified severe punishment, such as the cane, the sinner was sent to ‘Old Banner’, the Superintendent and final arbiter, who seldom resorted to corporal punishment. In my view, G A Banner was a misunderstood social revolutionary, a gentle, kindly man who was seen by many children as comfortably off and stuck-up, his refined accent setting him yet further apart. Arriving at Beechholme just a few years before me, he had apparently heralded a mistral of change. But tolerance, compassion and a readiness to listen were not qualities shared by all the staff at the institution he had inherited. Furthermore, the sobering truth was that many children had long ceased to have any relationship with the consideration and liberal sympathy he manifested, and clung to their suspicions like a much-loved comforter.
In contrast to my regimented early education, I now lived alongside children who preferred comics to books, and for whom homework was categorically optional. Poetry for many went no further than the oft-recited Beechholme ditty:
‘There is a mouldy dump down Beechholme way,
Where we get lousy food three times a day.
Egg and bacon we don’t see,
We get sawdust in our tea,
That’s why we’re gradually
On balance, it was rebellious contempt. Although the houses were well-built and the food was adequate, hunger still lurked. It was a powerless way of articulating that we did not want to be ‘in care’. Having previously been exposed at boarding school to Tennyson’s, The Lady of Shalott et cetera and the realm of literature, I felt uncomfortably incongruous. Attempting to integrate into a sea of cockney accents, I tried in vain to mask both my elocution and education. Indignant at having plummeted in educational standards in a society where knowing one’s place was an omnipresent despot, my colour put me bottom of the class pile. Anticipation and circumvention became constant companions.
Being of secondary school age, I was sent to Alvering Secondary School in Wandsworth, which held a literal handful of black pupils. Leaving the house every morning at seven, I would make the twenty minute walk along the lane to Banstead Station, to take the 39 via Sutton or the 84 directly to Clapham Junction and then bus to St Anne’s Hill, to arrive just before nine. I would seek out my only school friend, Arthur Lum, a Chinese student, and proceed to our classes.
Ashamed of being from a children’s home and in an attempt to avoid the disparagement that had been accorded those who had been too honest, like all Beechholmers, I quickly concocted a fantasy about the home life that cosily bracketed my school day.
The daily routine of attending school was intimately coupled with staying clear of the bullies stalking the grounds. Many merely vilified my colour and delighted in telling me about the superiority of their race with the—‘nigger’, ‘sambo’, ‘wog’, ‘darkie’ and ‘coloured’. However, some bullies went further, physically articulating their sentiments.
For Radford and Leman, two tormenters in particular, with everything of the night about them, I was their arrant bête noire. Passing by one during a metalwork class, Radford thrust a quarter-inch chisel into my lower right calf muscle; stabbing what I later learned was the posterior tibial artery. Blood spurted. Turning ashen, the horrified teacher screamed for the ambulance. Had I provoked the attack? No. Truly? I did not have to.
While having a tourniquet tied around my calf and waiting for the ambulance, I witnessed the feeble grilling:
‘Why?’ asked the teacher of my tormenter.’
‘Chisel slipped, sir,’ replied Radford, curtly. Radford’s mates giggled at his response.
‘What your chisel slipped over five feet and into his leg?’ the teacher sputtered.
‘Floor’s slippery, sir,’ said Radford, cockily.
Rolling his eyes in utter futility at the response, the teacher spat:
‘In my class, you stay away from him.’
Shrugging off the feather-like scolding, Radford made a funny face at his sniggering mates, who were ready to serve as his ‘blind’ witnesses. In those wild days, there were some teachers who did not want to be observed siding with a ‘coloured’ — ‘nigger lover’ was a taunt too far. That was then.
To this day I sometimes see my former antagonists, still glued together, chugging around Wandsworth in a flatbed truck collecting rag and bone, as they did all those years ago with dray horse and cart after leaving school.
To circumvent the playground assassins at lunchtime, I went hungry and retreated to the usually empty school library, my haven, where I immersed myself in history books. At the end of the school day, I would walk a gauntlet of jeers from some white pupils. But terror generally kicked in fully at the school gates. Radford and Leman would chase me the whole way to Clapham Junction Station and even onto the platform where, with abject fear, I would beg the protection of railway staff until the train arrived.
Unfortunately, the welfare and child care officers were indifferent, cold individuals who, unwittingly or not, were likely to provoke new problems. Reporting a white pupil invited retaliation. Instead, I became accustomed to accepting the blame for things I had not done to lessen the cataclysm, and learned to console myself afterwards. These officials therefore learned nothing inconvenient from me. With blame for many things being frequently laid at my door, I learned to make myself invisible —to be in a room and be barely noticed.
Only the annual Sports Day in Beechholme rendered me appreciably visible. Membership of the house team suddenly became imperative – ‘you coloureds are fast runners!’ But once the great day of ‘friendship’ was over, I resumed being an outcast. The cold shouldering had the curious benefit of keeping me out of trouble, mischief-making tended to be a group activity.
Instead, I retreated to books and running, encircling Beechholme’s broad playing fields every night. My isolation was finally breached on the great day I was invited to audition for the Beechholme choir by G A Banner, who was also its choir master. It had been almost eight years since being invited to join anything in my host country. Desperate to ‘belong’ to something, I practiced constantly before my audition and was ecstatic when I was accepted. Each Sunday now found me in the deep sanctum of the Church of England, trilling the praises of a god I thought had long forgotten me.
‘The sun will never set on the British Empire.’
I had had this mantra pumped into me since arriving in Britain, even though the empire was undoubtedly dying. With colonial independence clearly underway, a new and chagrined cry surfaced:
‘We don’t need them anyway. They cost too much.’
Now here was Britain out on the daunting slopes of 60’s liberation, slipping, sliding and squealing into introspection, losing an empire and searching for a role. Suddenly, immigration crashed onto the agenda. The effect at Beechholme of this new reality and its consequent edicts was immediate. My normally high anxiety quotient shot up further. Now I was really scared.
‘Wouldn’t you feel better being among your own people?’ asked a Beechholme housefather.
‘When I qualify as a Barrister,’ I replied, weakly, ‘then I’m going home.’
‘Barrister?’ the housefather exclaimed, laughing out loud. ‘No one from Beechholme has ever gone to university. Not clever enough. An’ what is a coloured lad going to look like in a white wig? A black and white minstrel – that’s what! A trade would suit you better — carpentry and plumbing. They will need carpenters in Nigeria,’ he added, confidently.
His words and judgment hurt. My skin colour and my presence here had truly become a serious political issue. In those days, providing I did not call Britain ‘home’, and that I was not trying to aspire to anything much or intending to settle here, I was safe from further assault, verbal and otherwise. I gained the distinct adolescent impression that decolonisation aroused the populace while the issue of immigration united them.
Promulgated by mischievous politicians and disseminated by the baying press of the day, the issue of Immigration inflamed the staff and fostered resentment. In the prickly aftermath of Independence celebrations, I represented Africa in the eyes of many in Beechholme. Disparaging remarks repeatedly scorched my ears:
‘They can’t govern themselves.’
‘You know they can’t manage.’
‘They’ll fall apart without us.’
‘Soon they’ll be begging us to take them back.’
Saying goodbye to world power takes a particular grace. And I saw little evidence of that.
‘Ignore them,’ said my welfare officer, chummily, as if he was my friend. ‘What do they know about Nigeria? Half of them don’t even know their own fathers. Now what’s this I hear about you wanting to be a Barrister? Why would you want to go bothering your head with all that bookwork? The other kids will only think you’re trying to act big. Blend in with them. Lower your sights. Know your place.’
Intellectual and educational aspirations were scorned. Blue collar enterprise was encouraged with enthusiasm. I felt a captive in a padded compound with bodily needs guaranteed, but no prospect of setting a self-determined scholarly course considered counter to an in-care boy’s station in life. No one seemed to notice the number of books I read.
Left to our own devices after school, boredom was the constant whinge of Beechholmers. Indeed, weekends at Beechholme would have been most instructive to an onlooker. Many resorted to larking about in the back yards around Beechholme. Some built go-karts, bicycles and crystal radio sets from bits found on the local dump, trips to which were neither discouraged nor prevented. Others played endless card and board games. Reflecting the disinterest in our education, homework was the rarest activity. School reports were furnished, and good reports eagerly flourished, but otherwise rarely sought and commented on by house-parents. However, homework was a habit I could not break and thus always completed. Besides, I enjoyed it.
For many without homework to be concerned about, different routines came into play, in part guided by the temperament and encouragement of house-parents. Leisure in Beechholme’s little galaxy ranged from the scout and guide packs’ structured activities, to the defiantly errant, gaining notoriety by pinching sweets and cigarettes from The Chocolate Box in Nork and Woolworths in Banstead Village. The local woods rustled as small bands pursued a brand of independence beyond Beechholme’s perimeters, making fires, drifting around climbing trees, and sometimes crossing other boundaries. Others played along the railway line, staged cricket and football tournaments in the yard and teased our neighbours by playing knock-down-ginger on the doors of the houses along the avenue. During the fruit-picking season, scrumping in local orchards was both exhilarating and stomach-filling.
It was also at the weekends an onlooker would have seen the malaise of the angry, the introverted, the depressed and the excluded, for whom loneliness ruled. My weekends invariably comprised a five mile run, followed by homework, reading or listening to the Home Service and the radio serial Journey into Space. My spirits rose when occasionally I was invited by seniors to listen to the Hit Parade on Radio Luxembourg before bed. It was usually a short-lived experience.
In many ways, Beechholme was an isolated, insulated and insular establishment where the Lord of the Flies could have been scripted in everything but gore. Between the children the hierarchy may well have tumbled from Darwin’s theory of evolution. The bullies, who were generally the eldest and longest institutionalised, determined the state of play for all, frequently with the tacit agreement of the house-parents. Unfettered and unthinking prejudices abounded. Fear was a ubiquitous companion.
Despite having a couple of tentative friendships in Acacia, I grew downhearted, a condition to which I became accustomed. Continuing rebuffs had normalised my fear of rejection. I withdrew. Worse still, I had lost the self-assurance needed for seeking out new avenues, without disapproving comments and looks. Alarmed by my inner turmoil, an instinct told me to save myself. A chance encounter furnished me with a way out. One day on the train returning to Beechholme from Clapham Junction, I had met a resident of Kerria House who invited me to tea. I was dumbfounded.
‘You’re allowed to invite someone to tea?’ I asked, astonished.
‘Sure. Uncle Bob won’t mind. You’d like him.’
Weighed against the Spartan emotions of Acacia, Kerria was positively abloom. Warming to the more homely atmosphere on repeated visits and hearing that there was a bed available, I tentatively asked them to accept me, which they did without hesitation – swapping houses was permitted provided you were accepted by the receiving house parents. Thus emboldened, I officially requested a move to Kerria House, convinced I would be happier in its more functional environment. A date was soon set.
Kerria House was the province of Bob and Beryl Green, a kind-hearted, middle-aged couple from Yorkshire. I know not how they came to join the social services. He was a moral, upright ex-serviceman who believed in the northern ethics of hard work. She had been a conventional housewife. Though I was now happier, I still felt deprived of affection, academic encouragement, personal guidance and advice — the friendly Uncle Bob was educationally ambivalent. In place of scholarship, he was a champion of blue-collar action, a virtuoso of the trades and an outstanding carpenter. Given his familiarity with service ablutions, Kerria was maintained by the children, shipshape and Bristol fashion. Drawing up a rota, he had us peeling potatoes for twenty, scrubbing and polishing floors, shoes, brass work and even cooking under the supervision of Aunt Beryl. Punishment in Kerria favoured no one. Extra chores, loss of pocket money and being confined to the house and yard, were meted out irrespective. Strangely, I was glad for that. Moreover, I never saw Uncle Bob raise his hand to a child. Thankfully, at a time when there were no race laws on the Statute Books, overt racial bigotry was prohibited. Gender bigotry, however, went unchecked, reflecting the chauvinism that extended beyond Beechholme.
Learning a trade took precedence over all other interests. Plumbing, carpentry and metalwork were his areas of expertise, together with caring for his beloved Ford Zodiac. Under his expert supervision we built an inspection pit and a portable garage, an enterprise that absorbed some of us after school over several months. Under Bob Green’s tutelage I developed an unusual skill-set: carpentry, construction, metalwork, decorating, car mechanics and mix and matching bits from a dump to build a bicycle from scratch.
In Kerria’s lively environment, I felt more settled and my insecurities, anxieties and unresolved problems since leaving boarding school began to dissipate. But despite their efforts, Kerria also could not provide what we most lacked – a loving family, educational encouragement and belief in a future. To a young Yoruba boy who knew he had been brought to Britain to receive an education, I felt I had failed before I had even had a chance to begin.
Despite my improved circumstances, I continued to harbour unease as to what would happen when the time came for me to leave Beechholme. What would I do? Where would I go? Where would I live? With what would I feed myself? The future looked bleak, and every child held that dread in common. Armageddon began on our sixteenth birthdays, the date set for you to leave Beechholme. We often spoke darkly about it among ourselves, pondering our unknown and fearful futures. The professionals were unwilling or unable to grasp our scary reality, instead talking only of apprenticeships, our apprehensions remaining unaddressed and untamed.
In theory, Beechholme was a laudable idea. In loco parentis was the role of the London County Council. As such, every child was provided with food, clothes, shelter, schooling and weekly pocket money according to and graduating with age. For summer holidays, each house was given two weeks in resorts like Bournemouth, Paignton, Goodrington Sands, Torquay, Dawlish, and Margate et cetera. There were senior and junior club activities, scouts, guides and the choir. Every child received presents and cakes for birthdays and Christmas. This was far from the workhouse, which loomed in the recent past.
Nevertheless, there were systemic failures in the care at Beechholme. The word of a child carried little or no weight with the staff or child care professionals. Interest and support in academic achievement of any child was never shown. Personal problems deriving from disrupted and disfigured histories or from bullying were rarely resolved. House-parents and assistants seemed mostly untrained in child care. I learned that many, not all, had previously worked in offices and factories before joining Beechholme. Sometimes they came from broken homes themselves. With unadulterated power over their vulnerable charges, the condescension of the day appeared to afflict them as well — thus disparagement tended to be their methodology with children. Child care professionals generally asked very few pertinent questions and always sided with the staff. ‘Them against us’ appeared to steer their behaviour. It certainly steered ours.
By the same token, what seems to have been missing in the management of Beechholme was tangible concern for reducing the often all-too-visible effects of the resentment, disorientation, psychological woes and educational poverty that afflicted us all. Furthermore, we had all been taken into care at different ages with varying degrees of deprivation, both emotional and physical. During my time I witnessed browbeating and bullying as a daily occurrence and occasionally, various types of abuse. Naturally, sex abuse was one.
Discussions about sex almost always resulted in embarrassed giggles. Sex education and loving relationships were a mystery. Sexual intercourse between a few children was an inevitable by-product, covertly sampled behind the many outhouses in Beechholme, in the out of sight hollows of Banstead Downs, in Nork woods and other secluded places. The lack of developmental interest or educational guidance was akin to waving temptation at angry, wounded spirits. Sometimes girls would suddenly leave, to reappear six months later, inexplicably changed.
Sexual misconduct was not the special preserve of the children. A seriously inappropriate liaison crumbled when a married housemother was impregnated by a teenager. If an inquiry was conducted, the outcome was not for our ears, and as usual, a veil of secrecy was drawn over the scandal. Dark rumours from certain houses hinted that particular housefathers were acting suspiciously around girls or boys in their charge, or how certain assistant housemothers had been seen in compromising positions. They should have been reported. To whom? Who would believe it? They must be caught red-handed. In an establishment the sheer size of Beechholme? Unlikely. Had whistle-blowing been established in the homes for the children and staff, then maybe what we experienced may never have occurred.
The patent lack of comprehension and even compassion often exacerbated behavioural problems, which would later result in life-changing events.
‘Stop doing that!’ was the cure for anyone affected by a tic. ‘You can stop if you want to; you’re just not trying hard enough.’
The indignation on the face of and offensive response from the chastised said everything and ultimately landed them in trouble. That chastising mind-set was endemic; virtually guaranteeing that whatever dilemmas you arrived with, you left Beechholme with, and with compound interest. That interest included an unerring suspicion of authority, and foreshortened horizons. With child protection appearing to be guided by class attitudes and it was clear that we were the underclass in a deeply stratified society where joining the ‘working class’ was considered a laudable achievement in itself. Those who were deemed our protectors indeed inhabited a different world, speaking a language that had no vocabulary for our pain and fear. Thus we, too, remained inarticulate.
It could be said that Beechholme was the consequence of a flawed and evolving system. Its overt defects could be characterised by a comprehensive disregard of children’s rights and the silencing of our voices. Without apparent checks and balances behind the official façade, inexperienced individuals were allowed to interpret child care responsibilities according to their backgrounds and tendencies, covered by the ubiquitous veil of silence. Anything can happen out of sight — an outlook that sufficed in the colonies appears to suffice at home. Child, race, gender and homeless statutes have comprehensively altered the field. Rights have been woven into law. Child welfare organisations comb the streets and operate phone lines, and psychologists and social workers are ever more alert. These belated laws, bodies, and sciences were but notions when I was at Beechholme. Could the unrestrained behaviour I experienced happen today? It seems so. As I write yet other major trials involving the abuse of children in care are being heard. Press revelations about the maltreatment of children under the noses of parents, care professionals, teachers, friends and neighbourhoods, should tell us misjudgements are never far away — Haut de la Garenne, Bryn Estyn, Kincora Boys Home, to name but a few.
What have we learned? Child psychologists and care professionals frequently complain of feeling overwhelmed by impossible caseloads. Of course they are, there is much to do. Like their charges, they too are unsupported by a complex and flawed system, open to political manipulation and short-sightedness. Like their forebears, there are the lingering mutterings of fecklessness and deprivation that few want to take responsibility for, but are quick to pontificate on.
Cottage homes like Beechholme were the transition between the workhouse and the current state care system. But what will this current system transform into? Beechholme typified the dilemma that continues to exist now. The ‘problem’ remains self-evident, but the solution to providing an alternative reality and future for children who are unloved and sometimes unlovely, or at least perceive themselves to be so, continues to present a formidable edifice. How does society love the forgotten and dispossessed, with their guileless pain all too evidently manifest?
At a conference at the Institute of Psychiatry to honour the memory of Professor Channi Kumar, we debated whether child protection had become a form of madness. I think not. Channi Kumar’s special gift to child psychology was his articulacy. We emerged from care with no words to express the loneliness, despair and hopelessness, depression, trauma and lack of belonging. We were not listened to then, and are not listened to now. Perhaps it was because we couldn’t articulate it. Channi Kumar had also experienced that intense loneliness as a child, and added a layer, that of empathising with the voiceless. He represented the subaltern voice of the vulnerable.
Beechholme was an experience that I accidently benefited from; in so much my antagonist was my benefactor. It taught me what I did not want. I was not a native son. I also found my voice.