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To those of my generation, mention foster care and the world of Tracy Beaker comes to mind. Tracy has to deal with her share of hardships of course, but everything turns out well in the end, right? Oi You Fucker is a far cry from Elaine the Pain and the Dumping Ground, instead, it exposes the childcare system as
“a system of brutally horrific regimes, founded upon extraordinary levels of inhumanity, cruelty, violence, fear and intimidation, propagated against some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
The story of Snowball, the protagonist of this brutally shocking memoir, is a hard one to stomach. Removed from his abusive, drug-addled mother at an early age during the 1960s, he makes a miraculous recovery against all the odds. Moved into foster-care, he ends up on the Fylde Coast with a loving family and the life that you’d associate with a picture-postcard seaside town. But after an incident with a foster sibling, he is ripped from his parents’ care, and taken to Melbourne House, an abysmal foster home run by the positively evil Mr and Mrs Rivers. Mrs Rivers makes Miss Trunchbull look like a loving, caring woman.
A sadist of the highest degree, she beats children to within an inch of their lives, and her evil is matched only by her husband, who is a sexual predator, and Snowball’s anecdotes of the young girls he abuses hit particularly hard. Managing to survive the unsurvivable, Snowball is moved to a family group home in Stockport, where conditions are far better. However, I found sections such as these hardest to read. Despite the glimmers of hope, you know that something terrible is around the corner (in this case it’s a prison-like foster home called the Manors in Manchester), and often, because of the narrative style, you have to keep reminding yourself that it is not fiction. Even when it seems like Snowball seems at least temporarily safe, you can see the profound impact of such a broken system on such a young, vulnerable person. When talking about Aunty Beryl and Aunty Anne, his carers in Stockport, I was almost moved to tears when he confesses that “there were times when he wanted them to hit him, to abuse him”, so entrenched in abuse is he. The punishing detail of Snowball’s suffering never lets up and is needed in order to convey truly just how endemic abuse was and is within the childcare system. The only thing that the book needs at points is an edit. Punishing detail sometimes turns into meandering trails of thought, but despite this, Snowball’s often witty tales of the children he grew up with make you laugh out loud at points. My favourite depiction in the entire book was that of the Smithers twins, who
are described as
“the human manifestation of mumps and measles”.
One thing is present throughout the book. Hope. In defiance of all the times he falls, Snowball picks himself up and continues to fight against the ‘fuckers’ time and time again. Bleak though his world is, he keeps going, never giving up, never be broken. Oi You Fucker is a much-needed tale of resilience in the face of adversity, and although it leaves you feeling sick at times, you cannot help but join Snowball in saying
“fuck you” to his oppressors. But this was the 1960s! Surely things have changed! Although the constant headlines of sexual abuse were rife in that era have faded, a different problem faces the British childcare system, one that may even lead to a relapse into the past. Cuts to foster care mean that there are less social workers to visit more children, and more and more quality childcare professionals are jumping ship to private agencies. Although Oi You Fucker may be a cautionary tale from decades ago, reading between the lines, it is an essential call for change.
Your Life Your Story
Posted on October 27, 2017 by Rosie Canning
Home! Hiraeth! A fantastic few days running Your Life Your Story as part of National Care Leavers Week 2017. A trauma informed writing workshop with Lisa Cherry and organised by Amanda Knowles, Trustee and Director of The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities and Richard Rollinson, The Barns Centre Executive Director, in Toddington.
We had 14 care-experienced adults with an age range from 18-59. They were described as: “…extraordinary, and courageous people”. They were this and much more. Inspiring and inspirational. Warm and funny. Resilient. Beautiful human beings giving to the world and living truly exceptional lives.
It was a strange feeling running a workshop for care experienced individuals in a building that was once a children’s home. This was our Hiraeth, we had come home and the air was filled with expectation.
Writing our personal stories is the most vulnerable kind of writing we can do. We fear being laughed at, rejected, or that our words will be met with silence. And in turn, we ourselves remain silent.
There are a lot of care-experienced people who want to share their stories, for all sorts of reasons. Personal, therapeutic, for family, for history and publication.
When I started the PhD, looking at the representation of care leavers in fiction, there was very little published about care leavers, but over the last few years there has been an explosion of new stories, new voices, often finally being heard after years of being invisible.
Some of the books I used or referenced in no particular order, included:
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Island by Jane Rogers
The Panoptican by Jenni Fagan
All the Good Things by Clare Fisher
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
The Seven Sister by Alex Wheatle
Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins
The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt
Fifty-One Moves by Ben Ashcroft
Non-fiction or Informational Text:
The Brightness of Stars by Lisa Cherry
Books about writing:
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
A Novel in a Year by Doughty, Louise
We tell bits of our story in order to have relationships. It would be difficult to have relationships and friendships without having some version of a life story floating around. The act of telling our story acts as a framing method or even a re-framing of previous life experience. YLYS
I’m interested in re-framing, whether that is fictional, autobiographical, memoir, or nonfictional. It gives a semblance of making sense of the chaos left behind. Stories are life, life is stories.
A life story is written in pencil, not ink and can be rubbed out and changed. You’re both the narrator and the main character of your story.
It’s also important to realize that you’re not just living out your story, you’re actually in charge of it. Even if it is a terrible story, which is hard to share; the act of sharing, writing and rewriting gives a new realisation and possible resolution. That awful sense of being unable to change what went before can suddenly be lifted. For example, a simple act of changing point of view, can suddenly release a narrator and give them a distance and freedom to write their story.
We can take control of our narratives – our stories, by how they are told, what’s included, what’s left out. We can change the ‘single story’, the single narrative. And the truly exciting thing about this is that you can put out a new version of yourself and live your way into it.
A young man who didn’t want to hold a pen, let alone write his story, transformed into a confident person who stood up and read out his writing.
Watching people change their ‘I’ into ‘he’ or ‘she’, third person narratives and finding their voices and freedom from their pasts.
Hearing a woman and mother, give herself the words that meant she finally found the words to write about her inability to honour her mother’s tragic death.
Seeing a man who could only doodle his thoughts and feelings suddenly break through and not only put together sentences, but paragraphs, chapters and is now half way through a novel.
#NCLW2017 Your Life Your Story. The story starts now and is written in chalk not ink. Changing the narrative.