Where was I? Oh, yes, Cumberlow Lodge, South Norwood. Politely described as a âchildrenâs homeâ â no doubt to honour the strictures of the will of theÂ VictorianÂ philanthropist, W E Stanley, who had left his much loved home to the government for use as a âchildrenâs homeâ. It was a detention centre, adapted to the needs of the burgeoning new fangled Social Services who were trying out their theories that the State was betterÂ equippedÂ to care for children thanÂ ordinaryÂ people. Even the good people of South NorwoodÂ complainedÂ bitterly when it became home to Mary Bell in later years. Those of us who were there sent up daily prayers that it would disappear from the face of the earth â our prayers were not answered until 2006 when a developer blew the site off the map of South Norwood one dark night before theÂ listedÂ buildingsÂ people could stop him covering it in âaffordable homesâ.
It was huge, my memory fails me but I would say probably 50 to 60 girls were there at any one time. Drawn from all over London and all walks ofÂ lifeÂ – please donât imagine that Mary Bell became famousÂ becauseÂ truly evil children were a new phenomena, they existed long before Maryâs time. I was utterly terrified of most of them,Â particularlyÂ Bernadette, who had greeted my arrival byÂ whackingÂ me over the head with a bounders bat for no other reason than that I sounded âposhâ. A fledglingÂ labourÂ voter no doubt. Luckily she didnât actually crack my skull, but I had an egg shaped lump on top of my head for months afterwards â probably accounts for a lot!
I donât remember any of the staff, no terrible tales of deprivation to relate â but I remember well the frequent fights between the girls who were streetwise way beyond my years.Â ManyÂ of them had grown up in rough and tough parts of inner London and had experienced a life I couldnât begin toÂ understand. The violence scared me witless, and I took to sitting right at the back of the dinning room, back to the wall, with a girl called Agnes. Fat, frumpy, Agnes, she and I were the outcasts. And Sadie, an Indian girl â another crime in the eyes of the multitude. The three of us barely dared to exchange a word in case ourÂ conversationÂ offended someone.
One night, over dinner, another fight started. They seemed to find it fun, they all joined in. Plates, food, then chairs, tables, flewÂ throughÂ the air. Windows shattered, and the staff did what they always did, ran out the room locking the door behind them. I canât blame them. I would have done the same if I could, but I was behind an upturned table with Sadie and Agnes. WeÂ coweredÂ in silenceÂ listeningÂ to the screams as hair was pulled, skulls cracked, old grievances dealt with â eventually all was quiet. One of us, I forget who, peeped over the top of the table and gazed in awe. To say the room was a wreck was an understatement â there wasnât an unbroken item in sight, nor another girl. The net curtains over huge Victorian glazed windows billowed in theÂ breezeÂ – theyâd gone. The whole lot of them. Every last one of them. Probably close on 50 girls haring down Chalfont Road.
I donât think we discussed the matter, we all seemed to have sussedÂ independentlyÂ that when they reopened that locked door, we would be the only ones left to bear the brunt of theÂ collectiveÂ staff ire. Trouble was, we had no moreÂ positiveÂ view of our chances if we ran after ourÂ youthfulÂ tormentors. Amazingly it was fat Agnes who came up with a solution; she was a local girl. Not Chalfont Road, but theÂ oppositeÂ direction! Smart thinking Agnes â but you forgot something. That other essentialÂ accoutermentÂ of theÂ VictorianÂ philanthropist â a tennis court. A tennis court surrounded by 12â² high wire fencing. I donât suppose youÂ haveÂ ever tried to traverse a tennis court without opening the doors. Agnes didnât make it as far as the wire, ran out of puff long before and was lagging behind. Sadie got there first and her nimble size 3s soon found purchase in the diamond wire pattern. Ms Raccoonâs size 8s didnât quite fit the bill. I could onlyÂ justÂ get a toe hold it took me an age stuck up high to figure out how to cross from one side to the other and let myself down â and I still had to get over the other side! Sadie had no patience with me and was gone, and after what seemed an hour or more but was probably tenÂ minutes, I finally made it only to find a seeminglyÂ impenetrableÂ hedge in front of me. Sheer adrenaline forced me through that hedge. I emerged into God knows what street, only to see Agnes sauntering down the road without a care in the world. She might have been fat and frumpy, but she wasnât stupid.Â RealisingÂ that she had noÂ chanceÂ ofÂ emulatingÂ our athletics, she had turned back and merely wandered down the main drive and turned left instead of rightâ¦
âRunningâ was becoming a habit for me, an obsessive one at that. Unlike the other runaways though, I had nowhere to run to; noÂ forbiddenÂ boyfriendÂ to make contact with, noÂ circleÂ of druggieÂ friendsÂ to fall back in with; no pimp waiting to put me back to work. MyÂ peripateticÂ lifestyle before all thisÂ started; a new school virtually every year, years inÂ hospital, parents moving round the globe -I simply hadnât known anyone for longer than a few months anywhere. The various people my Father parked me with in the school holidays were merely figures at the ends of a long drive, I had no more idea of where they lived than I do of Cameronâs address. Â Joss was out of the question, I knew that was the first place they would look for me. I became Agnesâs best, if unwelcome, friend. I stuck to her like a limpet. Whatever she had planned, so did I.
Agnesâs plans were interesting, Iâll give her that. They started with a trip on a fish lorry to the outer wastes of Suffolk, where we took up residence in a dingyÂ hotel. Free bed and board in return for all the washing up. After a week or so, fish lorry returned for us and dumped us in Lowestoft. There we found ourselves usefully employed in straightening out lengths of copper wire. It wasÂ beginningÂ to dawn on me that Agnes was related to all these people, and that possibly, probably, they werenât the best people to throw my lot in with. When the fish lorry came toÂ collectÂ us yet again andÂ installedÂ us in a dank caravan surrounded by other dank caravans, I decided that a moonlit walk wasÂ justÂ what I needed â and I kept right on walking. Like I said, it was becoming a habit. I do wonder what became of Agnes, and searched all the faces in the Daleâs Farm drama for sign of herâ¦
MoreÂ hitchhiking, and Ms Raccoon can be found sitting on a park bench outside Hampstead tube station. Next to me, a small dark haired lady ofÂ continentalÂ appearance seemedÂ fascinatedÂ by me. Evantia Turner, bless her long-dead cotton socks. âDid I live round hereâ she enquired. âOh yesâ, saith I, not quite theÂ rigorousÂ observer of theÂ truthÂ that I became. âChambermaid in a hotel over thereâ upgrading my washer-upper status and moving theÂ hotelÂ severalÂ hundredÂ miles with one airy wave of my hand. âDo you like itâ said Evantia. âNope, quit thisÂ morningâ. âYouâll be looking for somewhere toÂ liveÂ thenâ? âMmnâ, (and a hot meal, and a bath, and if you couldÂ throwÂ in a good nights sleep as well Missus!)
So it was that IÂ becameÂ au-pair to Paul and Evantia Turner, two of the best people that ever walked this earth. Both universityÂ lecturers, they were used to young people andÂ decidedlyÂ bohemianÂ in their lifestyle. I later learned that it had taken Evantia one glance at my matted hair, the stench of fish clinging to me, and my half starved appearance to figure out that this was no chambermaid â that and the fact that there was no hotel âover thereââ¦she knew a runaway when she saw one.
Between her and Paul, and several evenings over the dinner table in theirÂ wonderfulÂ hampstead house, they got the truth out of me. They declared that they were going to sort âthisâ out for me. Paul rented a room for me in Olympia, and every day they would bring me food; every day they were in negotiations with the authorities. Hence the move to Olympia â theyÂ wouldÂ reveal my whereabouts to theÂ authoritiesÂ justÂ as soon as they had acquired âsafe passageâ for me.Â IÂ couldÂ live with them and continue my education. They were prepared to pay my school fees to return to my old boarding school and if necessary they would formally adopt me. I could weep now when I think of them, what an almightyÂ magnanimousÂ offer to a girl who was a total stranger to them.
Eventually the day came when all the plans were agreed, and asÂ promised, Paul delivered me to HampsteadÂ policeÂ station â I would have to go to court one last time to regularise things. I went to court, Paul and Evantia stood there smiling encouragingly at me â and lo and behold the magistrates had had a letter from my Father! Utterly outraged that anyone would suggest adopting his daughterâ¦
The magistrates could see the sense of Paul and Evantiaâs plan though, and although he couldnât possibly release me into their care given my fatherâsÂ opposition, there wasÂ somethingÂ he could do. The State, the great and glorious State, the domain of all those newly qualified social scientists, had not long ago set up a special boarding school for girls such as I. IÂ wouldÂ be able to continue my education, Paul and Evantia could visit me, all the world was my oysterâ¦
It was called Duncroft, IÂ couldÂ go there straight away, that very afternoonâ¦in the event, I didnât get there until 3 days later. My fifteenth birthday. June 1st 1963.
FrankieOctober 23, 2012 at 20:16
I donât normally swear butâ¦ oh shit! I kind of know where this account is going and I am not sure I want to go thereâ¦
jonseerOctober 23, 2012 at 16:46
Dripping with interest, as always Anna. When is the next epistle ?
Anna RaccoonOctober 23, 2012 at 17:04
Busy writing it right now jonseer, slight hiatus since it is my wedding anniversary today â 20 years that man has put up with me, and celebrations came first. Now, back to the grindstoneâ¦.
macheathOctober 23, 2012 at 17:20
I am sure that it wonât be just me
And that everyone here will agree
To drink a large toast
To our much-beloved host
And her staunch right-hand-man, Mr G.
Cheers and congratulations to you both!
Anna RaccoonOctober 23, 2012 at 17:32
Thank you Macheath â you will appreciate when I say we just spent a marvellous evening in Bordeaux, wonderful wander through the Saint Pierre as dusk fell, aperitifs opposite the Mirriore, excellent restaurant, â truly glorious. A fitting celebration!
MudpluggerOctober 23, 2012 at 20:41
Seconding that fellow macheathâs sentiments. Well deserved.
Tom PaineOctober 23, 2012 at 05:15
I am following, fascinated. I normally try to focus on peoplesâ ideas, rather then who they are or where they or from, but your story is interesting in itself. Wherever it leads, I hope no-one uses it to contextualise your opinions.
macheathOctober 23, 2012 at 11:25
Anna RaccoonOctober 23, 2012 at 15:41
There will be some who will Tom â I am sure of that, and the Internet will be littered with false quotes and quotes taken out of context, but I have reached a state of life and health where I believe that the truth is more important than worrying about people with dark agendas. I am one of the few who can bring out the truth and I intend to do so. To Hell with the consequences.
Edna FletcherOctober 23, 2012 at 16:40
Bob Dylanâs Like a Rolling Stone phrase come to mind â when you have nothing you have nothing to looseââ¦
I also noted on the news there seems to be a problem with children around the age of 12 âself harmingâ and professionals and others having no idea how to help them. Makes one wonder about child protection / care.
GildasTheMonkOctober 22, 2012 at 22:10
I suspect what is coming next is even more compelling
âMystic Gildasâ .
Fred ThrungOctober 23, 2012 at 00:42
âmysticâ? Youâve never been mystic before â just intelligent and cerebral and interesting.
GildasTheMonkOctober 23, 2012 at 08:17
Why, thank you, Fred!
Gloria SmuddOctober 22, 2012 at 16:49
This Smudd is on the edge of her seat in breathless anticipation of the next episode â¦ donât let your fingers leave those keys until youâve done the next installment please, Mme R!
MudpluggerOctober 22, 2012 at 13:04
Thatâs an Eastenders-ending âduff, duff, duff, duffâ moment if ever there was one â what a vixen you are, leaving us all hanging with the topical name âDuncroftâ to tease us for the next episode. Will there be a compilation edition at the weekend ?
Stay with it, Anna â we shall.
Dick the PrickOctober 22, 2012 at 13:53
If you google Duncroft, not wanting to engage in any spoiler alerts (and also considering itâs infinitely better written than Homeland âhiya, iâm a terrorist, havenât got any bombs have ya?â) then iâm assuming, perhaps both unfairly and unwisely, that weâre going to walk into a macabre and labyrinthine recantation of covert, complicit, institutional, professional and political cover up of disgraceful and acknowledged abuse that when extrapolated to all localities that we each individually know of will have us viewing the state of Blighty as a Belgian brothel. Although, as Evan Davis said on Radio 4 on day 2 of the Savile story âwell, people used to drink whiskey in their offices and it was all a long time agoâ â so, thatâs alrighty then â hurrah!
Single Acts of TyrannyOctober 23, 2012 at 05:49
âpeople used to drink whiskey in their offices and it was all a long time agoâ
Raccoon readers are welcome to stop by my office and enjoy a glass of Jura if they are passing.
Dick the PrickOctober 23, 2012 at 10:12
OOOhhh, I was offended â as if offering someone a fine tipple has anything at all to do with kiddy tampering, as if they were anywhere vaguely approaching the same league â hell, they shouldnât even be in the same sentence let alone the same consideration.
âFancy a whisky Terry?â
âEr, no, no thanks, I wonât, have to drive to the supermarket in a bit. But iâve got time time for a quick tamper.â
âNo worries dude, clamber on.â
Iâve often said that Rd 4 Today is the best alarm clock that money can buy as you go from sleepy to furious in a millisecond but FFS, they âeven drank whisley tooâ has got to be one of the most dismissively insouciant pearls of contemptuous drivel thatâs been uttered in a long time.
macheathOctober 23, 2012 at 11:24
sleepy to furious in a millisecond
Hits the nail squarely on the head â Iâm glad Iâm not the only one. (Itâs also bad luck for the Spouse, who is then subjected to an irate rant until my self-control kicks in).
Once properly awake, I try to be fair to them â they have, after all, been awake since the crap of dawn â but the whisky remark is a particularly egregious example of an all-too-common phenomenon.
BrianOctober 23, 2012 at 16:40
Itâs the platitudinous interfaith dogma of âThoughtâ For The Day that gets me up and away from the radio during the week and the Sunday service at 8:10 â why does that have to be on FM when the daily service is quite happily on longwave?
Woman on a RaftOctober 23, 2012 at 10:28
Single Acts of TyrannyOctober 23, 2012 at 05:50
I have to agree with MP, this is most interesting indeed, compelling.