Thursday 16 May 2013

Skircoat Lodge

Will start writing again in the coming days, so I figured a quick recap was appropriate.

Skircoat Lodge

An athletic black man that automatically controlled a room simply with his presence, Malcolm Osric Phillips seemed to command respect under any circumstance. He always presented himself as a poised, level, even tempered sort of gentleman.

Nothing about the way he carried himself suggested he wouldn't think twice about rugby tackling a 14 year old girl from across the room, or pinning a child to the wall by the throat simply for ...... being.

His hair whilst speckled grey, belied very little of his true age in the first few months of my time in Skircoat Lodge, although that changed quite rapidly as time progressed.

Phillips Needed to be in control. If something wasn't quite right for him, we all suffered, staff and kids alike. About the only person he doted on was his 8 yer old daughter Emma.

He was slightly above 6". I know that because my dad is 6" exact and Phillips always puffed himself up in front of men similar size, kind of the way a peacock does. There again, it was a habit my dad also favoured so the few times I remember my dad returning me to Skircoat Lodge, I got a brief comedy sketch before the punishments kicked in for the absconding from whence I had just been returned.

I remember my first night in Skircoat first night in Care.....
I'd been shown into the 6-bedroom. That literally meant....6 beds, 6 girls.....
I was horrified....I was raised as an only child!! The idea of having other people in my room, able to touch my stuff!!! 
I stalled for about an hour. If staff came to check on me, I pretended to be unpacking, or prowling the room, getting my bearings..... all the time staring out of the windows, checking the height from the hill at the back of the girls wing, making sure I could spot my exit route before the sun set.
Satisfied I could find my way into town, I threw myself down on what can only be described as THE most uncomfortable bed EVER and to add insult to what has probably contributed to soooo many aches each morning - injury, the matress was covered in plastic. I stood up to go find somebody to complain at and demand a proper matress, not a kiddy bed....and Miss Brunning appeared in the doorway. Told me I'd better get my things unpacked and put away and get my arse downstairs for supper.  NOW!!!

Five minutes later, supper turned out to be a half cup of  tea (to which I am highly allergic) and 2 Rich Tea biscuits with half a digestive.

Several of the girls took earliest opportunities to have quiet words with me, either in groups or singular. 
"Watch out for Phillips, 'specially at night. If you're in the 6-bedroom, watch that back door.."

Panic stricken, I wracked my brain for every euphemism I had ever heard at the Lurcher Club, the Canoe Club and Grammar School (all rather "spirited" establishments in their own, unique ways)....and the only back door I could bring to mind sounded rather painful to say the least and more to the point wtf would a grown man want a girls "back door"!!!!!

I made a hasty exit to the bedroom to ponder my current predicament.

Upon walking into the bedroom, I felt some relief, as I was staring straight ahead at a door set just into an almost invisible alcove in the far wall.
I walked over to it and gently tested it. Locked. 
As girls started to drift in for bed, I found out the door led to the stores for the Camping trips. It was where they kept all the waterproofs and tents, rucksacks and water bottles for some of Phillips' "famous" 3-peaks walks that we faced on a regular basis.
Even at 14 yr old, I found it heart breaking to see a 7 yr old boy, completely exhausted to the point of collapse, being kicked like a rabid dog and told "Get up you lazy little shit, there's only one more peak to go."

Accessible from both up and downstairs, it quickly transpired that Phillips was in the habit of using the Stores stairway as a hidden route to his second flat within the property. It allowed access to his flat based within the girls wing of the home.
His main family flat being based within the boys wing, where Emma (his daughter, then 8) and Mrs P would spend the occasional night. 
The rest of the time, they were at his main residence, a 15 minute drive away.

Within an hour I had been filled in completely as to the night-time activities of "Mr P" as he preferred to be called.

Disgusted came nowhere near.
Despite having been warned by my mum exactly what to expect from Staff in Care, I had not expected to be confronted with the possibility of sexual abuse on night One fgs!!

As "Light's out!" was called, one of the night staff appeared in the doorway and demanded every scrap of clothing I owned, as it was all to be washed or destroyed, accordingly.

As I opened my wardrobe and drawers, I noticed several items missing, but said nothing. I could deal with that afterwards. Right here, right now, my hastily still-being-formed escape plans were being destroyed by an unexpected force.

As I dawdled and tried every delaying tactic I could think of, I was suddenly rounded upon by two rather burly women who proceeded to empty all drawers and my cupboard of every item of clothing and march off with it.

I sank to the floor and burst into tears.

Ten minutes later, the "Original Big Hairy Bikers" had gone again, and a small pile of my belongings appeared at my feet. Clean jeans, clean T-shirt, jumper, trainers and most importantly, my waterproof jacket that still stank ever so slightly of the River Aire. Rats pee is a smell you can NEVER get out of something, no matter how diluted it is. After around 6 years throwing myself down extreme rivers in a little bit of glassfibre, my rat-pee steeped, waterproof jacket was about as safe a place as I could imagine at that point. I quickly dressed and was at the back window within 2 minutes.

To choruses of "You'll break your neck. See ya tomorrow. See ya in an hour. When ya get lifted, remember to tell the coppers to go f...."

My feet hit the ground and i auto tucked and rolled down the gentle slope of the grass banking behind the home, raised to a half crouch, scurried to the end of the building, hit the treeline and was gone.

Two days later, I was returned to Skircoat Lodge by the police. Stood in the office, I was informed that whilst it was understandable to be scared, absconding would not be tolerated.
My clothing was confiscated, as was my footwear. My waterproof jacket was placed within the camping store, never to be seen again.
I was ordered upstairs for a bath and told fresh clothing would be on my bed waiting for me.

Climbing out of the bath, I discovered the "clothing" amounted to my gym knickers and the airtex top from my gym kit. Not even my gym skirt to offer a little dignity.
Once "dressed" I was ordered back downstairs and into the "schoolroom" they had for home schooling. Until I could be trusted to not run away, I was to forfeit my Grammar school placement and be taught instead, within the confines of Skircoat Lodge along with four of the younger kids.

After a few hours in the schoolroom, I was summoned to the office, given my jeans and a t-shirt and told to dress quickly as my mum was due to take me to a Dr's appointment. What for I demanded to know. I wasn't ill, I had no need to see a Dr. With no more info forthcoming, all I could do was wait.
When my mum arrived, she was told of the reason behind my Dr's appointment. I was to be put on the pill as the "last thing they needed was pregnancies". In disgust at the attitude and the implication I was promiscuous, my mum complied with their demand.

Within a week, the novelty of trying to force tablets down my throat wore off and the pills were consigned to the bin.

Over the next couple of weeks, I slowly regained the trust of staff enough to be allowed to return to school. That however didn't last long as I quickly took a detour to the pub, which was a source of great hilarity for the other regulars in the Upper George and the Sportsman in Halifax. 
Until that point, they had only ever seen me in jeans and t-shirt. Now I was arriving in what could only loosely be described as my school uniform. My knee length 4-gore grey flannel skirt had been replaced with a tight black mini skirt and my neat, tight fitting white blouse had been replaced with a mans size white Wrangler© shirt because it was thick enough to hide the fact I was wearing a black t-shirt underneath.
Whilst the regulars and the bar staff knew I was underage, they also knew I could pay for my own beer and hold it better than half the blokes. As long as the police didn't come looking for me too often, my age was not an issue.

Education changes

Eventually, staff seemed to click onto the fact that driving me to school didn't even work when the school rang them one day to say I was now suspended as I had only attended 1 lesson a week for three weeks.

North Halifax High School in Halifax started out it's life as a Grammar School. Originally known as Princess Mary's All Girls Grammar School, based on what is now College grounds, the school changed its name when it became co-ed and, a few years later, it moved to Illingworth in the late 1980's. 

The uniform is still the same today, although the school no longer retains Grammar school status. Grey  flannel 4-gore skirt, or Grey  flannel trousers, white, close fitting blouse/shirt, pillar-box red jumper, grey blazer, red and grey striped tie. Grey cap with red trim. The gym kit was just as bad.... even the grey gym knickers had the red trim on the edges and girls were told, they were to be worn at ALL times during P.E.
Mrs Crawley, the Headmistress liked order. After a two week stretch of 6th form girls arriving with blue and red hair, old Creepy set a rule that Nobody would attend Her school with dyed hair. She declared that "ALL Gals and boys, would be in attendance with the natural hair colouring or would NOT attend."
A week later the rule was dropped when Mrs Crawley arrived at work one morning with a bright green forelock, in complete contrast to the rest of her dark brown hair.
The story eventually came out via one of the Masters who declared she had left the bleach on too long while trying to prepare a grey patch of hair to dye it brown. 

All in all it was a good school. They were a little short sighted in their attitudes towards the more capable students, but they didn't allow for distractions either.

When I finished my Latin degree, I stopped attending school at all. This led to my suspension and ultimately, my "Exclusion". Mrs Crawley outright refused to put Expelled on the letter because "One does not get Expelled from Grammar school. These things cannot be allowed to happen."

So back I went to the little schoolroom in Skircoat Lodge. 

There was no teacher for the schoolroom, one of the care staff would just sit in there and occasionally tell us to find something constructive to do. They had no lesson plan, not even any books for anyone above the age of 6.
This grew tedious very quickly and the only thing left to do was plot yet another escape.

Ground Floor

As the diagram shows, the setup was very clinical. The lounge area was never there with the intention of use.
The only time I remember the TV being used in the lounge was the morning that Robert Kilroy Silk did a program on Children in Care and half the Skircoat kids were on it. It had been filmed a couple of days before I joined the home and was broadcast maybe a week later I think. Somewhere around May 1989.
The seats were a brown faux leather that made you sweat in summer. There was a tiny toy box in one corner of the room for the younger kids, although they were all too broken really to be of any use.

Friday nights were Youth Club nights.
A member of staff would walk us all down past the hospital to the methodist church where it was based, on Huddersfield Road and then come back for us 3 hours later.
I would wait til they left and then I left. Three minutes up the road and in through the back door of a house done out as bedsits. Up to the third floor and there, in the room, friends who, knowing I kept escaping from the kids home and getting picked up near their houses decided to sacrifice their Friday nights out and gather at the closest residence to me so I didn't land myself in trouble again. It was here I developed  taste for Spirits.
Two and a half hours later, I would return to the Youth Club, explain to the staff there I'd been there all night, they must have not been paying attention, coz I'd only Just come back from the shop!
This went on fine for a few weeks, until one day, Jay's mum had given him a few bottles of homemade Elderberry wine. When I arrived, two lads were already out cold. I remember Darren who was 19 at the time, was sat on the floor, slumped against the bed, eyes closed, tongue hanging out like a dog, snoring heavily. I unceremoniously booted him off the pillows he was hogging, put his jacket under his head then changed my mind and put it over his head to muffle the noise. Parked my ass on the bed and proceeded to get hammered. 
"Just in time," announced Jay, "thought I'd have to drink all this myself." He motioned behind him to a crate half full of bottles. Each one still corked. 
"Not drinking that again," a voice chirrped up from the corner of the room, I looked across to see Hawk. An 'Angel from Derby, he visited infrequently and was a much-welcomed sight. "Tha' stuff's bloody lethal." he finished, grinning broadly. 
He stood, crossed the room in just 2 steps and hugged me tightly. 
We spent the evening with me relating everything I had encountered since I entered the kids home and Hawk getting more and more aggitated, what I was relaying clearly upsetting him deeply.
Three bottles of Elderberry wine and, a bottle of Olde English Cider for Hawk later, I squinted carefully at the clock, failed, closed one eye and saw the Hour hand jumping between 10 and 11 and sobriety started to kick in as I realised I had missed the "Collection" time at the Youth Club.
Fifteen minutes and two black coffee's later, I could just about stand enough to lean on Hawk for him to help me stagger up the road towards the kids home.

By the time we reached the bottom of the driveway, I could stand unsupported without falling over straight away and Hawk was still berating himself for having let me drink that much without noticing. We walked down the drive and I stopped before we got in sight of the windows. Turning, I said "You'd better go. I'll be fine from here."

"Oh no, I'm going to make sure you're ok, I'm coming in with you and telling them straight. No punishments, no comebacks, nothing. They can't treat you like this, or those kids." He nodded toward the building. "Them bastards need teaching."
"Not tonight. Not while I'm in this state for god's sake. I need to have my things packed before you kick off at them."
At that, it was agreed that if I were punished for getting drunk, there would be a reckoning, and Hawk left.

Approaching the building, I drew a deep breathe, shoved my fingers down my throat and forced myself to throw up. All over my boots. Rang the doorbell, leaned against the door and waited to be let in.

Ten minutes later, the door opened and I woke up as I fell into the doorway.

Three days later is my next conscious memory. Laid in bed, in the single room closest to the 6 bedroom, a cold damp cloth on my forehead. A cup of salt water at the side of me and a sick bucket. Ravenous. 

"Bacon butty." 
"No chance." I looked around to see wtf?!  large shadow loomed in the doorway.
"So you're awake then now." stated a Joyce-shaped blur.

According to Joyce the Matron, I had fallen through the doorway, thrown up twice on the night staff and been put to into the single room so I didn't disturb other residents. I had been unconscious most of the first day and drifted in and out long enough to throw up again for a further day or so. Her diagnosis was alcohol poisoning. 

"What did the Dr say?" I asked.
"What Dr?" was the only reply as she left the room to report I was finally lucid and hungry.

First Floor

The Flat

Saturday nights, Phillips operated a Flat list. All the kids that had been good that week were allowed to watch a film in one of Phillips' Flats with him. There was pop for the youngest kids, biscuits, cake and crisps for all, and 13+ were allowed a can of "lager". 
My first time in the flat was a couple of months after my arrival.
I'd never drank Fosters before (or since for that matter) but soon realised why Phillips was so casual about letting us drink it. It was foul water! After quickly draining the can, I made a show of holding up the can, scrutinizing the outside, peering into it, shaking it.... 
Eventually Phillips asked "What are you doing girl? If you've finished it, put it in the bin!" 
"Sorry Sir," I replied, "I was looking for the alcohol."
The room erupted with laughter as Phillips looked exasperated whilst I grinned at him like a Cheshire cat.
I wasn't invited back for film night for quite a few weeks.
I did however, find out that the best behaved from movie night got to have Single bedrooms. Two of which were situated within the "boundaries" of the flat. If neither room was allocated, there was a lockable door to prevent us getting anywhere near. 
It later became apparent that the door was sometimes locked whether the single rooms were allocated or not.

The next few months were relatively quiet. As the weather got warmer and summer stretched away in front of us, Phillips started organising walking trips for us all. He would pile us all into the minibus, with rucksacks and packed lunches. Hiking boots were issued and, looking at them I was so glad I had my own pair. The things they handed out looked like they had never seen a tin of dubbin. We would get quarter way up a mountain and half the group would be crippled due to inadequate or badly fitting footwear.
Even I understood the damage that would be doing to people's feet. Especially the younger kids. So I tried to explain to them about extra socks just to pad out the boots a bit so they didn't rub.

Despite all the downsides to these excursions, I enjoyed them. It was the closest I could get to what I considered a normal life. At home, we had always been an active family. The lurchers were always in fine form, having had moorlands to run across for most of their lives. This in turn meant a few miles walk to get to the moorlands before the hike could begin. I had started canoeing with my dad from an early age and, showing aptitude for the sport, had turned to Slalom events (competitive) by the time I was 9.

These "walks" meant I could finally forget the worries of Skircoat Lodge for a little while, even if the cause of those worries was walking two feet away from me.
By the new school year, Miss Brunning had organised a new school for me to attend. Sowerby High School.
A Secondary Comprehensive. My main concern to get to town all the way from Sowerby Bridge every day. My first day at the school, I made it through to dinner time, past the induction and the lectures of how "This school would not tolerate the likes of my past behaviour!". I was in the toilets, making sure I looked presentable for the pub -
Hair a mess - check!
Black t-shirt - check!
Mini skirt - check!
The door opened and a couple of girls from my class wandered in, as I continued smoking my single-skin spliff before setting off.
Smelling the hash, both quickly started talking to me and I discovered they were about to head over to one of their homes, just across the school field. Would I like to join them, to raid her mum's booze cupboard came the question. Ding! Free booze for the win!
So we traipsed over the field and into the house. Between the three of us, we made short work of a bottle of Ouzo, a bottle of brandy and started on the vodka.
With 5 minutes of dinnertime left, we fell out of the house and back into school. Standing in the hallway, waiting for a teacher to arrive to let us into the class for an English lesson, I see's one of the girls slide down the wall and onto the floor, laughing maniacally and turned in time to see the other one throwing up into yet another girls schoolbag.
The teacher arrived and the 2 were quickly dispatched to the sick bay, after being asked who else was involved.
The sick bay sounded good to me. Easier to walk out of, so I volunteered and, after a quick smell of my breath, it was agreed, yes I had been involved and I was sent to.....the dining room. I was told that I was not in a state needing medical attention and would sit in the dining room and do the English assignment in there.
The assignment was to write a story about a fox. Two pages minimum.
That sounded fine, I've always enjoyed writing. I find it relaxing to a certain extent. It also gave me a chance to show off my knowledge and understanding of wildlife. So I sat there writing away on A4 paper. Half way down page three and the Vixen was still fleeing from the hounds, trying to lead them away from her den and the cubs. The moonlight glancing off their eyes and the saliva spray as they ran, chasing the stench of fear and fox..... "Pen down."
"Miss Brunning." I replied, still writing away. "Is it home time? Thanks for coming to pick me up. I've almost finished this assignment. Can I just have a few more minutes please?" I flashed what I hoped was a winning smile and carried on writing.

Miss Brunning was a large lady, to say the least. She looked like she could fill a room on her own. She had a temper to match her size and couldn't always quite hold it in check. I knew she was heading straight for me without looking. The room shook.

I finished the sentence I was writing, put down my pen, and braced myself for the impact. She hauled me out of the seat by the scruff of my neck and dangled me in the air like a naughty puppy.
"I'm not here to collect you" she snarled, "I'm here for the report on you and I can already see I'm not going to like it."
"I finished the assignment," I proffered the paper as proof. I was feeling brave, so continued, "and it wasn't me that couldn't stand up. Not my fault if people can't hold their alcohol."
I was unceremoniously dropped back onto the chair as the door opened and the Headmaster walked in.
He explained to Miss Brunning that leading the others astray was not acceptable and nor was "the delinquent child". I was thereby expelled. I'd lasted 1 hour short of a full day at my new school.
Again I held up the paper and announced "I finished the assignment Sir."
"Leave it there, it will be graded and added to your file, for your next school."

At that, Miss Brunning and I were escorted out of the school building and towards the car. Stopping, she turned and informed me she had finished her shift for the day and was on her way home. She would be ringing Skircoat Lodge within the hour to make sure I had returned.

With that, she got in the car and drove away, leaving me to make my own way back to the home.
The next morning, Miss Brunning announced I was back to the schoolroom until yet another school placement could be found for me.
Three days later, a note arrived in the schoolroom, from Miss Brunning to Joyce who was trying to teach two of the boys how to read. Joyce read it and, smiling she told me "That assignment you wrote, you got an A."

The months dragged on and boredom set in. I started absconding again and hitting the pub regular.

Hawk moved up from Derby and got a bedsit in Ovenden. He gave me a spare key so I could use it whenever I needed. Two days later he found I'd basically moved in.

Life was awkward, but manageable. For the next few months I spent half my time at Hawk's or in the pub and when I ran out of clothes to wear, or the money ran out, I would go back to Skircoat, take the punishments, get my clothes washed and confiscated. Then spend my time working on my trust with the staff so I could get my clothes back and start the cycle all over again.

Christmas came and went although it most certainly wasn't a memorable one. I remember there were a few gifts for the kids who had no family, like SP. He must have been 6 by then. Both his parents had died in a car crash and, with no other family to take him, he had landed at Skircoat Lodge.

There were always reasons why he couldn't go to a certain foster family, although they never seemed to ring true. Too old, too young, didn't get on with them, didn't get on with their other children. If all else failed, Phillips would rely on the old favourite, "They don't want a bed wetter."
So he stayed at Skircoat, where his emotional and educational needs were severely ignored. He withdrew further into himself making it almost impossible to then find him a foster placement because nobody wants a "surly child".

Bradford or Dead

Some time not long after new year, I was offered a single bedroom by Phillips' flat. They felt as I was approaching my 15th birthday, I should be in a room of my own. At the same time, they offered another of the rooms to another girl, DF.
Whilst in full agreement I needed my own space, there was no way I wanted to be vulnerable like that and, despite the time of year and the weather, decided I needed a more permanent escape than just Hawk's place and the pub.
D and I sat talking one evening and decided, if there was to be an escape, it would be more likely to succeed if there were two of us together. At least we could watch out for each other.
We waited until the Saturday and headed out from Skircoat, into town. We both had 3 layers of clothing on and bags with us. The bags were checked on the way out, to make sure we weren't taking clothing with us and we were allowed on our way.
As we got half way up the drive, we stopped and started stripping off the extra layers. Bagged up the clothes and headed for a bus to Bradford.

We got off the bus in Bradford and hurried down the steps into the concourse below and blended into the crowd, laughing between us at how easy it had been to get out without being caught.

"So, where to?"
D's plan had been to ring her boyfriend and get us somewhere to stay until the weather turned, then head down South and see....
My plan had been to stay in Halifax and get Hawk to shift us to Derby where he had family and friends, but as D pointed out, that plan always ended up with me getting drunk instead of leaving town. So D's plan it was.
We headed to the phones and she dialed his number. I pottered about, waiting for her until I got bored, then wandered over to her.
"Dirty, lying two-faced bastard!" she screamed into the phone before slamming it back into the cradle.
"So, South is a bust for now then?" I asked, trying to sound more confident than I felt. "We'll find something. Come on."

I headed for a pub just in the City centre I had been to a few times before and, telling Diane to sit in a booth with the bags, I went to the bar and ordered a couple of pints.

"She old enough?" John nodded towards D.
"She's with me, if that helps." I replied, grinning at him. "Phil been in?"
He nodded across the room as the door to the Gents creaked open and Phil, John's partner walked back into the bar area wiping his hands on his Jeans.
"You're not meant to piss on your hands!" I yelled to him across the room.
"Be thankful I wiped it on my jeans then." came the retort as he put one hand across my nose and eyes playfully before hugging me.
Smelling the soap on his hand, I feigned disgust and, slapping his arm away I reached for the drinks and motioned to the booth where D was sat, laughing at the antics.

I'd met both guys in "The Empire", a heavy metal club in Halifax. They knew my situation and I knew that, even if they were a threat to some people, we would be safe with them. I trusted them.

As we sat there, in the dimly lit pub, I explained the sudden urgency behind our hasty departure.

I will interject here and take the time to explain that this next section is rather graphic and disturbing. It is also, as with the rest of my account, unfortunately very true.

*Warning: Contains descriptions any normal person will find abhorrent.*

A couple of weeks after New Year, Phillips had decided it was time for a "bedroom shake up". Shift us all around and break up little cliques. A-M was moved from the 3-bed into a single, DW was moved back into the 6-bed after yet another breach of the "No Smoking" rules, a few more shuffles and life continued as normal, or so we thought.

Then, the weekend before we took flight, A-M had demanded to be returned to the three-bedroom from a single and was threatening to self harm if it didn't happen. A quick reshuffle was done and I was given the room just vacated whilst D was given the single room next door, a girl had been moved from the 3-bed to the 6-bed and A-M had her space back but still wouldn't stop crying. Nor could she be coaxed out of the room to eat.

We were all instructed to go to the Dining area for lunch and ignore the "attention seeker until she is willing to stop being a baby and join us!". Part way through lunch, I asked to be excused for a toilet trip, grabbed an extra sandwich on my way out of the room and headed toward the girls stairs, hoping nobody had seen the snaffled food. I knew she wasn't normally such a sensitive person, she would happily stand and tell anyone to "Fuck off" with the best of us, there had to be more to it.

Arriving outside the 3-bedroom, I knocked on the door and pushed it open. Although I couldn't see her, I could hear the broken sobbing from the far side of the room.
"A" I called out "Brought you a sarnie honey. You gotta eat something. Ya know these bastards will let ya starve to death if you don't come down and sit with us."
"Death sounds ok. Leave me alone."
"Fine, fuck ya."
I let the bedroom door swing closed, hoping she wouldn't spot my reflection in the windows opposite and carefully crept around the end of one bed, and stopped in horror.
Her lower clothing was in a heap, on the floor. They looked as though she had tried to set fire to them but failed and given up. The room stank of bleach and fear.
Where she sat, legs spread, the floor was covered in blood, as were A-M's hands and whatever it was she appeared to be holding.
Struggling to keep my lunch down, I bolted to the top of the stairs and screamed for staff.
Five minutes later, Miss Brunning came up the stairs, puffing and panting and declaring I would be in so much trouble if this was for nothing.
As the ambulance pulled away, a fairly new member of staff, Linda, explained that A-M had claimed she had been sexually assaulted during the night. The blood was where she had tried scrubbing the event from her body and her mind with the help of her toothbrush and the bleach had been the cleaning agent she had used. Her accused? Malcolm Osric Phillips, the Principal (his own-fashioned title).
The accusations were labelled the fantasies of an overactive child's imagination and there was no further action other than a formal warning given to Linda for breach of protocol when divulging information to residents.

D and I sat in the booth and waited for Phil to return from the toilets. He still looked a rather pale green as he walked back over to us and he was visibly shaking.

"You're not going back there!" Phil drank the remains of his pint as John came towards us carrying four drinks and looking concerned.
"What's wrong? You ok?" His concern was aimed at Phil, his life partner. I later discovered the reason for his concern, Phil had been diagnosed with AIDS some time in late 1989.
Quickly he explained everything I had just told him and they both decided we could stay with them, temporary, until something else could be arranged.
Relief washed over us both and we settled back into the seats and prepared to get drunk.

They lived in a small flat in the Manningham area of Bradford. A key was placed in my hand and we were told to come and go as we wished but to at least leave a note so they knew we were safe. Life started to settle into a routine. John would go to work, Phil would wander off whenever he felt up to it and they would both turn up at night carrying food and drink enough for all. Things seemed to be looking up.

Four days into our stay there, the landlord showed up and seemed less than impressed to find D in the stairwell, stating it was  male only establishment and wanting to know why she was there. She explained she was visiting a friend and that another resident had left the communal door open for her to nip in and see if he was home.
Hearing the exchange echoing up the stairs, I woke Phil, who was snoring in the chair and he went out to rescue his "niece" from the evil landlord. It seemed our time at the flat was about to expire.
Rather than put friends through the awkward experience of asking us to leave, we packed our things and waited for John to finish work. We ate our final meal in the flat, thanked them for their hospitality and headed out into the Bradford evening, armed with £10, 20 cigs, a packet of Rizla and an eighth of  resin.

As we walked down Manningham Lane, a few snowflakes started to fall. The "toms" started drifting into the doorways. Shelter seeming to be preferred to the street corners and biting winds.

"What we gonna do now?" came the squeaky question of a scared child.
"We'll be right." I wasn't too sure how exactly, but felt sure something would turn up. "Come on, let's grab a hot drink." I indicated the cafe that was open for the street walkers and their pimps, the dealers and the inevitable custom that filtered in looking for all services provided.
After a coffee and three offers of work from punters, we grabbed our bags and headed back out into the snow.
"Come on." I led us into an alleyway, moved quickly through the shadows and into a parking and garage area for residents. There, in a corner away from everything except weeds was our destination. A 2-berth caravan owned by the Probation service who ran a Bail Hostel that overlooked the garages.
"Grab a solid stick, or a thin metal pole, if you can find one, please." I asked, as I started searching the ground.
Wordlessly, a thin bar was put into my hand. I flattened one edge and popped the lock on the caravan door. Checking the noise hadn't been heard, we crept in and started to cover the windows so our presence would go unnoticed.
Satisfied no light would be spotted by a casual passer by, I checked the storage areas under the seating and found blankets, folded away the table and prepared the double bed. We both huddled under the blankets together, trying to keep warm.

As we laid there huddled together for security and warmth, there was a knock on the caravan door. Panic set in and I motioned carefully to D to stay still and quiet. After what seemed forever, I heard footsteps walking away and I peeked out between the curtains and some cardboard I'd put in place the night before.
A middle-aged man was walking away from the caravan towards the Bail Hostel. Reaching the door, he cautiously looked around him and slipped into the building.
I explained what I had seen to D and climbed back under the blankets.
"It's been snowing," I added. "Looks quite deep too."
"We're gonna freeze to death!"
"Well do you want to go home?" I snapped the question at her, feeling guilty as she recoiled. I turned and smiled, "Look, we'll be ok, something will come up, but we can't do much til the snow shifts anyways. We need food. Stay here and I'll be back soon."

I climbed back out of the nest of blankets and pulled on a second layer of clothing ready to brave the new day. Zipping my jacket, I promised I wouldn't be long. A quick tour around to see if the local shops had deliveries awaiting attention.

I opened the caravan door and saw a box straight in front of me. Nervously I nudged it with my foot, it moved easily. I lifted the corner and saw a pint of milk, a cig packet, a paper bag that looked rather greasy on the outside and an envelope.
Grabbing the supplies I let the box fall back into place and bolted back inside.
The bag was warm and smelled delicious. I opened it and passed D a Bacon, Sausage and Egg sandwich.
"Where the hell did tha...." the rest was lost as she bit into the food.

As we ate, I read the note out to her.

Don't worry, Your secret is safe.I saw you sneak in there last night when I was having a cig out the window.Thought you might be hungry.
"That it?" she questioned.
"Guardian Angels don't have to be chatty."
We giggled as we huddled back under the blankets, glad of the warmth in our bellies.

The next few days passed by uneventful. We slept, the snow melted, food arrived each morning and we existed. By Friday afternoon we started to discuss where we should move to, having decided the current situation could not continue. 

Eventually we would be found out, especially as there was somebody, god knows who, leaving a Bail Hostel at 5.30am every day, going to the all night cafe and then dropping two sandwiches outside a supposedly empty caravan.
There was a knock at the door. We both froze. 
"I know you're in there. I've been watching the door for last few hours. If I stand here much longer, I'll get seen."
"Well fuck off then!" D called out her response and we both burst out laughing. 

I stood and walked to the door. Opening it I turned to D

"Don't be mean to our benefactor. You'll be hungry again tomorrow." Looking back to the man stood in the doorway, I stood to one side to allow him into the 'van.
Closing the door, I turned to face him, making sure I was closest to the door at all times. D spotting my caution began to unwrap herself from the blankets. 
"We're grateful and all that for the food n everything," I ventured, "But if you're here to collect payment you've got lost mate, all the Toms are on the main road."
The man , taking in the scene before him, smiled and said "I merely came to inform you, that the evening meal tonight is take away for the hostel and, as we always order too much, I've asked the staff if a couple of the youngest lads can have their 'girlfriends' round."
"I ain't shagging nobody for any take away without drinks first!" came the almost brave voice of D.
"I wouldn't put that offer on the table honey, some may not be so casual taking that info on board!"

I rounded on him but before I could speak, he interjected and explained that yes, there were two nonces in the building and that one of them was aware of our existence. He explained that introducing us to the Hostel staff was probably the best way of keeping us safe if we intended to stay in the caravan. At least if staff knew of us, then we may be allowed into the Hostel more regular which meant food, warm drinks, radiators and, if we were sneaky enough, a bath!

"Food is usually collected around 6.30pm. I will be here with the two lads at 5.30pm so you can meet them and get to know each other so there's fewer questions later."
With that, he turned and opened the door. "I don't need to know what you're running from, but you need to know you're not exactly in the safest place."
"It's one hell of a lot safer than where we were, believe me!" I replied, looking him straight in the eye.
Nodding, he stepped out of the caravan, adjusted his coat collar and strode across the car park.

At around 5pm, there was a knock on the caravan door.
"D, your date's here!"
"He's early, tell 'im to piss off!"
We both giggled and she opened the door.
I was introduced to a lad about 19yr old, Neil. He seemed fine, although I was going to make no snap judgements. These guys were, after all, criminals living in a bail hostel..... yeah, and we're runaways living in a caravan came back the retort in my mind. Silently I berated the voice.

D's "date" for the evening was a 20 yr old called Gary.
Apparently both guys, brothers, had been caught mid-burglary of a nonce's house. They were due to remain in the Hostel for only another 2 weeks, while their flat was being made ready for new tenants. We also learned our benefactor was called Raymond. He had been released 2 months prior, having served 3 years for violence.

As one lad started to roll a joint we all began to relax and slowly the laughter was coming easily with light conversation.
We walked into the Bail Hostel at just gone 6pm. The staff agreed we could visit in the games room and that yes, we could also stay for food. Under no circumstance were we to go upstairs.
Food turned out to be curry. Was about what I'd expected, being in Bradford.
Ravenous, we devoured as much as we could without drawing too much attention from the staff or certain residents. The lads tried to keep us huddled in one corner, out of sight but as the time dragged on, staff started looking to the clock or their watches and staring at us longer. At around 9.30pm they insisted it was time for us to leave, but that we could return the following day should we wish to.
We thanked them for the food and the staff hovered nearby as Neil and Gary made a show of saying goodnight.
As the cold wind hit us, I felt it bite through to the bone. As I groaned, D turned, a quizzical look on her face.
"Don't feel right."
"Oh god! Food poisoning's all we need in the caravan!" she said, grabbing my arm. "Come on, let's get back."

We hurried down the street to the alleyway as the snow started to fall again, heavier than before. Settling almost instantly, the road was soon covered yet again.
Stumbling in the dark, we reached the safety and shelter of the caravan. My chest was on fire and I staggered over to the bed and crawled under the blankets.

I woke up a couple of times and D hovered nervously, trying to coax me to drink something. I would manage a mouthful or two each time and pass out again. The third time I woke, the police were there and D looked very apologetic.
"It's been four days!" she rushed to explain. As she pulled forward towards me, i could see one Officer holding onto the handcuffs that secured her arms behind her back, like she were a violent criminal, not a runaway from a Children's Home.
I struggled to speak, my throat raw from dehydration and coughing. "It's Ok D. Think I'm not well anyways."

"Up!" The Officer barked the order at me, holding out the cuffs to demonstrate he was growing impatient.
I carefully stood up, holding on to the edge of a unit to steady myself as a wave of nausea swept over me. Rough hands grabbed my shoulders, forcing me round to face the bed as handcuffs were snapped in place behind my back.

D and I spent the next 18 hours in Bradford Police Station. We were told nobody could drive the 10 miles from Skircoat Lodge to Bradford to collect us so we would have to wait in the cells until arrangements could be made.
The following morning, one Custody Sergeant decided he was not having "two kids" in his cells another day and dispatched 4 Officers and a Riot Van to drop us at the Children's Home.

An hour later we stood in the Staff Room at Skircoat Lodge, facing Ms Brunning and Joyce. Ms Brunning was screaming at us both about the trouble we had caused and I felt my knees give way and everything faded to black.
I woke to find myself in bed and the Dr conferring with Joyce about my condition.
"She can't be moved for quite some time. Really I would prefer she were in Hospital, but considering the flight risk, I agree confinement here is probably preferable. If her condition worsens we can look at the options again."
Joyce noticed I was awake and led the Dr out of the room, pulling the door closed behind her. She returned 5 minutes later and started busying herself tidying the room.
"You're going to have to stop running away," she said, "You're only hurting yourself with it. Look at the sorry state you're in. Filthy, half starved, that's before we even get to the Double Pneumonia."
Well at least I knew what was wrong with me. I rolled onto my side, facing the wall, pulled the blankets over my head and waited for the world to fade to black once more.

To Macc and Back

My recovery took around 3 weeks. Mr P visited my bedside every day.
"Why?" he asked one day.
I looked at him blankly.
"Why you 'ave to cause me so much trouble girl?
"Coz you're a dirty nonce nigger!" I snarled back at him, bracing for the impact that usually accompanied such comments.
Instead he just folded his hands into his lap and smiled. "We have an offer of a place in another facility for you. You would still be registered as living here, but you would spend 5 days there. You have to have an interview first of course, make sure you're suitable. But I sure a girl so determined to leave here is resourceful enough to gain entry anywhere."
"What's the catch?"
"No catch," he replied, "Your Mum has even expressed a wish for you to spend some time back at home, so we were considering allowing you to attend the school in Macclesfield and then return home each weekend. If that goes smoothly, we could look at signing you out of care and back home."
He stood, smoothing his jacket and looked at me, "When will you learn girl?" He shook his head as he leaned towards me. His hand gripped my throat tightly, my already damaged lungs struggling to gasp air as his hand slowly crushed my windpipe. "There ain't no escaping me til I say you can go!" he screamed.
As footsteps came quickly along the hallway, he released his grip on my throat. The bedroom door flung open and Joyce gave Mr P a withering look as she began fussing over my blankets and pillow.
"I told you she was resting."
"And I told you the little bitch would be fine. Now get her back on her feet woman and out of my Home."

As the door closed on Joyce's argument with Phillips, I felt relieved. They were letting me out of there. Didn't matter what kind of school, it was out of hell. All I had to do was survive long enough to get accepted. As sleep crept up on me again, I wondered what kind of place it really was....

As the days dragged on, I fell into a routine of checking every morning and evening with Staff to see if I could get any more details about the placement they had dangled in front of me whilst I was ill.
Gradually, they let details slip, just to keep me quiet. It took two weeks to discover that the facility was a Young People's Unit  in Macclesfield. A Child Mental Facility, designed for maladjusted youngsters that lacked inter-personal skills enough to prosper in "normal" schools, children's homes and other facilities. It was the last chance saloon for delinquents and mini-whackjobs.

As the weeks dragged on, my 15th birthday came and went without much notice. I did a couple of “disappearing acts” but nothing more than the odd night on a mates couch or crawling in at 3am puking my guts up on the shiny-clean hallway floor coz I'd been bought too many drinks – and tried to drink them all!
I think it was around this time a couple of us had booked, through the youth club, to go to Birmingham NEC to see Alice Cooper.

Myself and 'R' were both at Grammar school.

Both knew we were far more intelligent than the imbeciles “looking after” us. As 'R' said to me recently “Makes it hard work for you as a child when you can out fox both parents by the time you are 8.”

We were both bored of the whole “conformity” BS.

We wanted to rebel.

Skircoat agreed to pay for us to go to this gig. Great, one over on the bstrds. We get something nobody else in the Home is gonna get. 3 weeks away, but hey... it was gonna happen!

With 8 hours to go before we were due to set off for the gig, I decided to go out and get hammered. I crawled back to Skircoat with just about enough time to get changed and get on the minibus.
Miss Brunning blocked my entry to the building and I was instantly grounded.
'M' went in my place.
Apparently it was a fantastic gig, apart from when somebody pointed out to Security that 'R' + 'M' were “Care kids” and they were shoved up the front with a few disabled people. As Alice Cooper took to the stage, they nearly got crushed by the crowd, but all in all, a good night, not to be missed. *cheers 'R'....
They did at least remember to bring me back a T-shirt *mumble, grumble, fkin moan

I began to give up hope of Macclesfield, although I'd already started staying at my Mum's each weekend so life was bearable. At least I wasn't running a risk of being included on the "Flat list" any more. I would go home on the Friday, then go to the pub, crawl home late Friday night, pass out, rinse n repeat til I had to return to Skircoat.

It was some time around March when my Social Worker turned up, with my Mum in the car and announced we were headed for Macclesfield. My assessment day was finally here.
It was a single storey building, Very clinical-looking, both inside and out. The Dr's and other staff all seemed friendly and welcoming. I can't remember much of my assessment, it flowed over me, as I sat there somewhat in shock that there were actually some nice people involved in the care of children. After the staff attitudes at Skircoat things were looking up. I was accepted as a "student" at the Y.P.U and my Social Worker set about the paperwork.
My last few days at Skircoat flew by, as I packed and said my goodbyes to people. Explained to some of the younger kids that I would be back every Friday teatime to collect my train fares, before going to my Mum's for the weekends. So they would still see me, I wasn't leaving, I just wouldn't be there.

Macclesfield was a 5-day Unit. Residents presented themselves on Monday morning, unpacked and got settled in before lessons started. The school was also used by the Macclesfield Education Panel as a depository for their own delinquents, catering for around 20 "outpatient" students along with the 14 residents.
Classes included the basics along with Art therapy and psychodrama.
Throughout the week there were individual and group therapy sessions, although I was quickly excluded from group therapy after being deemed an "antagonistic aggressor" which I took to mean "arsey lil bstrd". We all helped out in the kitchen with food preparation. My main job was scrambled eggs each morning, for breakfast.
I was given that task after I complained about the watery eggs they made. I was told "If you can do better, get in there and do it." So I did. After the first morning of decent eggs, I found my name on the roster every morning for the kitchen.
There were regular Community meetings to make sure we felt included in the decision making that would ultimately affect us. Any problems were aired and dealt with at these meetings, so we could all see action was being taken, issues were being solved and we were in a certain amount of control of our own lives. For the first time, I felt almost Adult with the level of consultation each of us was given.
The only problem I foresaw was the reluctance of staff to allow a resident off the property alone, before Friday. If you wanted to go to the shop, everyone had to go. It was a group event. No staff accompanied us, just the residents, with the longest term in charge of the rest of us.
Now I'm older, I can see the sense in this as a team-building exercise but at the time it just seemed bloody stupid.
Thursday night was movie night. 14 residents all sprawled out in the lounge watching a video which more often than not, turned out to be Dirty Dancing. I soon learned to hate that film.
Friday after classes, we would all go to our rooms, pack our stuff for the weekend and head off to Macc centre for the train home.

I would get off the train in Halifax every friday afternoon and head up to Skircoat Lodge, collect my pocket money and my train fare for the next week, along with bus fare up to my Mum's. Say Hi to whoever was around when I arrived, spend a few minutes catching up with what had gone on through the week and then head out again, back into town and straight to the Upper George pub. Spend the full weekend in the pub and on a mate's couch before finally crawling to my mum's house on a Sunday evening for my washing doing and to get a bath and hot meal. Crawl to bed, before Monday came and I had to do it all again.

3 months I remained at the Y.P.U. The full assessment period.

During that time, I tried to avoid most of the classes in the school. The ones I did attend, were mostly through boredom.
Things improved at home with my mum. Her and my dad split up after she found out he had been hopping into various beds around the Dewsbury and Wakefield area.
She gradually came around to the idea that yes, maybe the voices I'd had in my head from being 4 year old might actually be a mental health issue, not just “me being a child.” as one psychiatrist had put it. During that same psych session he also told my mum she was being neurotic. The session ended when he asked my dad about his sex life. At this point my dad near hit the guy and we were rapidly shown out.
I had fought hard to keep the voices a secret at Skircoat. That was the last thing I needed them knowing about. Kids and staff alike. Every last one of them, including myself, would use any weakness to get what they wanted.

On the Monday of my final week, I was called into the Office. My Social Worker was sat there, along with Dr Wells, the head Psychiatrist.
Here came the crunch, if they kept me, there was something wrong in my head like I'd always believed, if they didn't offer me a place, it proved my dad and Phillips right and I was just “a little bstrd!”

I became aware Dr Wells appeared to be waiting for a response from me on something.... so I quickly mumbled an apology and asked him to repeat the question.
“We would like to offer you a more permanent place here, “ he said. “6 months to start with. No matter what, you are here for the rest of the week. We would like you to stay as we feel....”

I breathed deeply and stood up, cutting off his sales patter.
“No ta. My mum said I can go back home instead of Skircoat, so I'm off there. Can't be doing with 3 hrs on train to go to t'pub.” I grinned at my Social Worker and turned to Dr Wells. “Gonna be late for Art Therapy Doc. Can I go please?”
Without waiting for a response, I turned and left the Office.

I reached my classroom, picked up a pencil and paper and sat at the back, quietly. The tutor smiled and left me to it, continuing to instruct the rest of the class but seemingly acknowledging I was in no mood to do whatever BS they were doing as a group, but at least I had attended class for a change.
I sat and thought of never having to see Phillips' smug face ever again, or having to watch Brunning bully the smaller younger kids simply with her weight.
I pondered the truth my dad had been wrong all the time but settled on the fact I would never dare say that to his face

An hour later, a message was sent to Art Therapy informing me I would need to report to Skircoat Lodge on the Friday, as usual.
My heart sank.
The rest of the week flew by too quickly. Friday arrived. Goodbyes were said. Offers to stay in touch were declined. I explained to each that I was no good at staying in touch as I rarely stayed in one place long enough for return mail.
I headed to the train station for the final time and felt a sudden urge to ring Dr Wells and change my mind. Take up the offer of 6 more months free from the authority Phillips sought to impose upon me.

I pushed on, barely reaching the platform in time to catch the train. Climbing aboard, I found a seat by the window and watched as the train carried me back to the one place I feared most of all. Home.


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