Thursday 30 June 2016


Twice this week someone told me I was laid back. I assure you I'm not and if you asked anyone who has spent any significant time with me then they'd disavow you of the notion pretty quick.
I am Fawlty Dad.

I just lost it this week, totally spat my dummy out, my buttons were well and truly pushed. What amazes me is my children's abilities to find new buttons. Of course they don't always intend to push my buttons but good grief they sometimes seem to have a supernatural sense of what they are and when is the most inappropriate time to push them.

I can keep the safety guard on my big buttons, I expect them to be pressed and take appropriate actions to avoid them being being exposed to the sticky little fingers that seek them out.

So, this week I got called a 'freak', repeatedly. I thought oh stuff this for a game of Cluedo and proceeded to unravel over a 30 second eternity. I returned sarcasm with sarcasm and became all 'whatever' and 'I'm so not bothered'. I carefully laid aside my NVR and PACE and rolled with it.

Button thoroughly pressed.

Not my best moment. Of course I fixed it over an hour or so but I should have walked away, I should have kept my button well and truly guarded.

There was a time in my life when I though I had no buttons. Then children arrived and what a deeply upsetting experience it was discovering that I was literally covered from head to foot in buttons, reactions waiting to happen. Over the years I've had some of the buttons surgically removed and some have broken through repeated and persistent over use.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to the new buttons that grow back. There also seems to be no end to my children's willingness to press them.

My enduring button is name calling and I'm painfully aware of it and keep it well guarded. But with all the 'stuff' going on in the rest of the world I've struggled under a little cloud and that's when the buttons are vulnerable.

When I'm no longer laid back, when I am Fawlty dad.

Friday 24 June 2016


What a snarly angry little so and so she'd been, getting in the car was a fight, demanding and pushing. Rolling her eyes and silently but openly back chatting when I asked if she'd got her stuff. She was worried that we'd be late and it spilled into the place that all emotions go, angry. The snarly angry so and so. When we turned back to collect the thing that she'd forgot it was my fault and that she'd forgotten it and my fault we had to back. Snarly angry so and so.

We went and I watched. Enjoying the sun I chatted to one of the other parents. It was nice to be with grown ups and talk about grown up stuff, politics and politicians with the sounds of half a dozen girls enjoying a summer evening. As the sun slowly fell the shadows grew and the light turned golden. None of the parents seemed to mind as the training ran over. We don't get many warm evenings at training so we were enjoying it.

On the way home we hit the sweet spot, photographers call it the golden hour. The dying sun's golden gaze streamed through the windscreen and hit her face and she smiled at me. Unusually, we were both happy with the music on the radio and we turned it up, way past reasonable.
The golden sun kept streaming and she kept smiling. We talked easily about this and that, no purpose just enjoying the 'easy' bit, no tension and no snarl. A ten minute drive but that smile and that sun drenched the memory of the snarling and more, it desolved the snarling that would inevitably come again.

As we drew into the drive I reminded her to take in her water bottle and her pack lunch box that she'd left in the car earlier that day. The smile reversed and the inevitable returned, but one smile seems to dissolve a hundred snarls.

This morning I woke early and I checked the news before I headed out to catch my 6am train. I was glad that smile still had some power left in it.

Sunday 19 June 2016

BASW Adoption Enquiry

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) are opening an enquiry on the role of social working in regard to adoption. They want all people connected to adoption to contribute to the enquiry and the details can be found here.

Without doubt my views and perspectives have changed on almost aspects of adoption including the processes and ethics as well as the political context that influences both. Prior to adoption my views were largely informed by popular media such as the hard hitting docu-drama 'Annie' or decontextualised christian narratives. Lived and observed experience has put all that in a box and my social work training and experience has demanded that I look closer and think different.

I confess to being pleased that BASW are wanting to ask questions, they are independent of the government and authorities and I do believe that they have no agenda to peddle other than ask the questions. They are looking for views on a range of issues including adoption preparation, matching and sibling placements. All issues that I constantly see touched on by adopters on Facebook and Twitter.

Right now seems to be an appropriate time to ask questions as the universal goodness of adoption appears to be unquestioned by the powers to be or the media that prints an unending stream of  poorly  informed 'news' stories. I believe that adoption needs to evolve as society and knowledge develop and BASW are trying to ask the questions that I think we all should be asking.

I'd encourage all adopters to take part and share your views and experiences as they offer a unique perspective and they are needed and welcome*.

*I asked

Thursday 16 June 2016


Friedrich Nietzsche said 

“That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” 

I'd be the first to admit I'm no philosopher but I'd like to point out two things Freddy. One you never had children* and two, you've never met my children. 

It's all been rumbling round my head as my friend has just had two girls placed for adoption with him and his wife. Through texts and calls he's keeping me up to date with all the ups, downs and challenges and the challenges.

Hearing the struggles and incidents that they face is agonising, each day I see the pressure that they feel and anxiety that hovers around them. Admittedly the children are 'challenging' and everyone knew that before they came but still the gap between knowledge and experience seems so wide. 

What they describe evokes a visceral reaction in me, those first faltering hours, days and weeks where I felt I was drowning back in '99. As per standard practice and advice our friends and family drew back and we were more isolated than we'd ever felt. Of course it was all ok in the end but touch and go. All I can say is with hindsight is that I'm sometimes glad Social Workers are hard to get hold of.

I text my friend and repeat what I'd said to him during their assessment, waiting and matching. We'd talked long and hard about what it was like, he saw me on some grim days and saw some of the aftermath of the stuff that washes round Coates Towers. But it was all theoretical, head knowledge and stories back then. Now it's all experience, very visceral and hard. 

I tell my friend it takes time, hang in, build your new life. But they are starting from the bottom and that's a scary place. I'm sure it's going to be ok they'll find their feet build a new life together with their children. I want them to believe that it's all going to be ok.

It makes me think about how the good MrsC and I have changed since that summer 17 years ago. Perhaps Freddy was right after all.

*I checked on Google so it must be true

Thursday 9 June 2016

Coffee & Cake

Suddenly Mummy’s smashing blogpost last week set me away thinking about the nature, practicalities and systems of Post Adoption Support.

The Adoption Support Fund has scratched one itch. We now have a route to therapeutic services for our children and within the context of reduced budgets and cuts that's nothing to be sniffed at. 

We are about to see additional support for children within schools through the duty's put on Virtual School Heads, how that's going to play out I don't know but I'm hopeful.

Adoption is on the agenda, for now, and significant changes are afoot, by 2017 we will have several regional adoption agencies and what that will mean for adoption support is yet to be seen but things are moving. There's talk and hopes that they may provide 'hubs' of excellence in therapeutic and mental health services. That the good bits will be kept and the rubbish laid aside. 

All of this is good and part of a support 'jigsaw' that many of us need. 

However, I worry that in the drive for high profile solutions that we step over some of the cornerstones of good support. Sometimes what we need is pretty easy, a wise word and a listening ear over coffee and cake. Good old fashioned social work, pretty cheap, pretty easy.* But the reality is that it doesn't always seem that easy and as a Social Work Student Practice Educator I see it's a skill that doesn't necessarily come easily to all students. Contemporary Social Work Practice appears to be pushed more and more into a bureaucratic role where keyboard skills are as highly valued as people skills. Maybe that's right. 

However, if the high profile solutions are to be effective I believe that the most basic skills need to underpin them. I genuinely believe that one major part of the success of the Adoption Support Fund is the fact that families have had Social Workers sat in their living rooms listening.

I do hope that in this environment change and opportunities for adopters to voice their views on the systems and processes that make up adoption and adoption support that we don't forget the coffee and cake. 

*I'm conveniently putting aside some of the unhelpful things that can be and have been said by Social Workers through the ages. Please don't share them in the comments, the internet only has so much capacity.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Why I blog.

I was asked last week by a friend how come I write so many blogs? I struggled for a coherent answer so went for a glib one noting that there's nothing on the TV so what else am I going to do?

I can confess it's been a frantic few months, one job ending and another growing, roles and responsibilities transforming and stretching and getting used to being a self employed Social Worker. Writing blogs is really not very high on the family's list of priorities. But it gets to a point in the week and I get twitchy knowing it's time to write a blog, something or someone will have sparked a thought or comment that I need to get off my chest. Some times they write themselves sometimes it's like smashing words out of granite with a loaf of bread and a banana as a hammer and chisel.  The quality and popularity is variable and in no way correlated to how much time I spend writing them. My record so far is 7 minutes for the quickest and 4 hours, over several sittings, for the longest. So why do I do it?

After I'd given my glib answer to the friend I tried to give a long answer but got bored of my own voice after two minutes and gave up.

A few days later the answer popped into my head, I write because its my life and not my job.

I rub shoulders with passionate, articulate and competent adoption professionals most days and they inspire me to be better, work harder and go further. But it's their job and I'm pretty happy being an amateur, I dance to my own tune. Like the behaviour review, the implications for professionals are potentially significant for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week and 33 weeks a year. For me, and many families, the significance is 24/7/365 as the impacts of what happens at school spill into every corner of our lives.

Long after the professionals are gone and retired adoption will continue to occupy a central space within my heart, mind and life.
Because of that I'll still be bleating on about this 40 years from now.
I'll keep bleating on because the consequences of adoption are life long and enduring.
I'll keep bleating because I keep getting cross or bothered or moved or wound up or moved to tears.
It's the same reason amateurs run support groups, write books, research, read, train, retrain, lobby fight and fight some more.

That's why I blog.

Wednesday 1 June 2016

A guest blog - Splinter in my foot

By an Anonymous Friend

Today I got a splinter in my foot.  I kept gardening, ignored the little jolt of annoyance and altered how I walked instead. Having  put the kid's clothes away and made dinner, I then went out to carry on gardening.  Splinters and I have a very special relationship whenever I get one, it seems too small to be bothered by.

I tried to ignore it, wipe it off, but this splinter won. I stopped and dug it out. It irritated me the ‘instant’ relief that I felt. How could something so small affect the entire body. Splinters remind me I have processing to do. For me ignoring and storing tensions in my body because of painful memories is a very practical problem. It affects not only how I think, but how I physically  move my body and am able to cope with life.

 If you haven't noticed already, I'm waffling.  As I write now I'm not sure I can process this next set of memories.I want to put them into words. Words to the experience seem a cheap option. As a veteran memory blogger I know that this probably means that it is important to try.

So here goes: Boarding school (school life).

This is my third attempt to write about the subject. I find it incredible that it can still make such an impact (splinters, splinters, and more splinters).  My brain  and body moves rapidly  between different ages. I try to clasp at some point of reference to write about.   

What was robbed from not just me, but those around me in the three years that I and they were there seems beyond meaning. I suppose, if I was to put it in a nut shell, boarding school for me was the place my behaviors and I were broken. 

I once heard of an experiment were they put a rat in a wire box cage. They  gave it electric shocks though the cage. At first the rat is able to do something to stop the shocks by pressing a lever in the cage. Then they take the lever away. The rat is periodically shocked with out rhythm or predictability over a long period of time. At first the rat fights back and runs around trying to escape or find a physical position which would stop the pain of the shocks but in the end the rat gives up. It can't find anywhere to escape.  The door to its cage can then be left open.  The rat won't even move to escape and hope has gone, any thought of rescuing itself  have gone and the rat endures and lay motionless.

At our African boarding school they used stress positions to achieve this same effect with us. The school could brag that they did not beat their pupils. I can't, and probably never will, decide what was more painful. Being put in a stress position for an unspecified amount of time and enduring the burning fire that would rage through your muscles; or being made to watch someone else go through the same experience, mirroring their pain but being unable to save or help them, being unable to predict how long it would go on for.

I'd heard a story of modern terrorism. In order to put fear into a village, militants would take a few people and torture them in a horrific visual way.  Then they would kill them and dump their bodies in the middle of the village.  All the village could see what had happened to those who had been taken. When the soldiers arrived to ‘take’ the village  it would just give itself over without a fight because of the fear that had been induced. What the village saw created such fear the minds of the village were broken before the militants arrived, that is brokenness.

We had every minute of every day ruled by fear.  Our food, our sleep and our bodies, nothing was off limits. After a few months of stress positioning I broke and 'they' felt they had achieved 'their' goal. On top of performing the stress positions I became compliant and would run until they let us stop. I would stand in line until they said move, sit with my back straight and stand with my eyes facing straight ahead. I, like the others, would move to complete what ever task we were given with the efficiency of a well drilled soldier.

Totally hopeless and broken, no one was going to help and I could not help myself, we even broke the thought of being able to help each other. Life became a personal mission of survival.  My parents kept taking me back every Monday morning at 6am and pick me up every Friday at 1:30pm. Being a weekly boarder I had to try and keep switching  between two opposing worlds; two totally different sets of rules. In the end I withdrew and detached myself from either world. This personal isolation and lack of trust or help from anyone only added to the hopeless,and confusion.

I also didn't understand because other families' children on our farm went to a local school. I Couldn't get my head around the fact that my mum would travel to my school on a Monday (to drop us off) and a Wednesday (my mum would come to my school and teach RE). Friday (to pick us up) and  Saturday the we would watch sport in my older sisters boarding school down the road (and pick her up). Sunday we travelled back to my school had church in the school hall. Why couldn't my mum let me be a day scholar it would only mean making two extra trips on Tuesday and Thursday?

Wednesday's were particularly were challenging for me. I could hear my mum's voice down the corridor as she teaches RE, and could see our car in the car park and yet was totally unable to make any contact. It made me very angry.

So what really happened?

Apparently to everyone else I was making wonderful progress and the 'new' way of controlling my behaviors was working well. For me it was like living in a slow painful descent into death.

In the end I did not say when:

- I fell over the banisters down a two story stairwell. I only got found out when I fainted later in the day.

-  I did not tell any one when in sick bay I had ants attack my soiled pants, I just got up washed them out, put them back on and got back in bed with the ants.

- I did not say when the matrons made me stand in the kitchen freezer room and threaten to lock my in by playing with the door.

-  I did not say when I had not had enough to eat because the prefects did not like me and the head of table handed out small portions to me. There were periods over those three years where I would walk around the day scholars begging them to share their sandwiches and crisps. Sometimes at night I would eat my toothpaste.

-  It didn't even cross my mind to complain about anything or tell anyone if I was ill.

- I once had a very bad case of conjunctivitis. Every morning I would make my bed perfectly with my eyes crusted together. Later in the  bathroom I ripped the gunk out of my eye lashes not worried about my eyes but worried about it putting me behind schedule.

Any part of my world that allowed for any expression of individualism gradually became deeply deeply hidden. I secretly hid biscuits from home and sneaked them in,  stole matches and lit rolled up pieces of newspaper behind the out door school toilets. I used to keep a handkerchief  hidden in my sheets and I would suck my thumb at night whilst stroking my nose with it (tracing a specific pattern over and over again). Sometimes I would get my hands on a bit of chewing gum, I would guard it preciously by sticking it in the top of my mouth for most of the week.

I soon realised that the part of the school I inhabited was seen and treated very differently to the majority of the school. (I'm sorry I have not explained earlier the school run on two systems. Red stream: those pupils considered academic and green stream: those who were considered unteachable). Those of us in green streamwere by all accounts the lowest of the stupid and the most unruly of the unruly (and we knew it). Everyone else had the power to make our lives miserable, be it through condescending attitude or power like the matron's teacher prefects.

There are other things I would like to mention as I'm not sure I will ever blog about this part of life ever again are these;

- The hospital that sat adjacent to the school on a Thursday evening would burn all its human contaminated waste, the smell was sickly and deathly (hated it). At that time (in African news stories) it was in vogue to put tyres round people's head full of petrol and set them alight. It would be reported and I always got scared of those images mixing with that smell.

Then there were the stories our dorm prefect would tell us to scare us at night.

- Stories of ghosts and babies being flushed down toilets to die and getting stuck in the pipes.

- Of prisoners who had their faces slashed and then were hung upside down with bags of rats tied over their heads.

-      Poor unfortunates who were wrapped in barbed wire and then force fed water through a hose pipe being pushed into they stomachs until they drowned. 

Zimbabwe as a country was fairly young into its independence and I'm sure some of these stories were made up but at the time I believed them all to be true because of the general evidence around me.

Then as I mentioned before there was the horrendous experience of watching other people being ‘broken’ through punishment.

- Winnie who had an incredible fear of heights but was made climb on top of the dormitory cupboard and sing nursery rhymes. 

- Gwen who would wet her bed every night and always smelt of stale urine having to endure matrons calling her dirty and filthy on a daily basis. Tears would silently run down her face even as she heard their footsteps outside.

-     Irene whose two front teeth were literally rotting in her face and who be ridiculed for her bad breath and ugly face.

-    Those who were forced to sit in cupboards with the doors shut.

-    Others would be tied to their beds at night by the prefects (sometimes by their hair so that in the morning they would be watched struggling to part hair from string and laughed at).

- Of the fear of anyone finding out it was your birthday which meant you could be carried and  held in a bath of cold water and your bed ‘Apple pied’.

- Of those that were made to stand on ant's nest and not be allowed to move to flick the creatures off until there was enough for the prefects to laugh at there dancing.

- Of all the times pupils were humiliated by being made to eat alone at piggie's table in the centre of the dinning hall for just dropping some sauce on the table cloth.

- Of all the times we were made to kneel in front of the prefects beds balancing bibles on our up turned hands until your whole bodies would scream with stiffness.

- Of all of those who survived all the above without showing anything or  saying anything but who apparently had done 'very well’.

Wherever you are, I want you to know you were seen! I saw you and it was not right! You are not stupid or born bad!

I wish I could have stopped it!

I wish I could have stuck up for you and made difference!

 All these years I have carried you in my stomach. Every time I see anyone dis empowered, or bullied, I remember you all. I have not forgotten. I will never forget that humans can actually enjoy humiliating other humans with no compassion or empathy, and even enjoy the power it gives them. I hope that someway you have managed to break free from the label we were all given. That you have had the the chance to get free of 'boarding school'. Peace be on us all.

So there I did it! I survived boarding school from 9-11.5yrs.  At 11.5I got sent back to England to live with my grandma, after completing an intensive training course in 'morphagraphs' so I would reach England able to read and write.

Thank you for reading and for letting my young me be heard.