The Jasmine Cadenza

The Jasmine Cadenza

In the late nineteen-seventies I spent a year living in a Children’s Care Home run by Birmingham City Council. The staff (all middle-aged women) were officially referred to as ‘Aunties’, while the Officer-in-Charge was known as the ‘House Mother’.

Our particular House Mother was fond of saying “The Aunties aren’t there to do the work for you…they’re there to learn you to do the work for yourselves.”

At the time I used to scoff at her clumsy grammar, but now I appreciate the importance of what she was saying; education consists not of spoon-feeding youngsters with appropriate morsels of fact, but is more to do with arousing their thirst for knowledge.

The House Mother did annoy me sometimes with her strange ideas. On one occasion I was washing up the crockery from her private tea-set, and she rebuked me; “In future, don’t wash the ashtrays in hot water. It gives them a funny smell.”

Then there was the time I was walking upstairs to go to the bedroom, while she was coming down. I paused to let her pass, but instead she placed a hand gently on my chest and forced me to make my way back down, walking backwards. “Didn’t you know it’s very bad luck to cross on the stairs?”

Still, I do have some happy memories of those times. Whenever I hear certain pop songs (Duchess, Livin on an Island, Video Killed, Tragedy or Girl Talk) I am immediately carried back to that big house I shared with eight strangers.

I had some odd experiences while resident at this Children’s Home; on one occasion two of the inmates ran away and were sleeping rough. When recaptured, they were found to be infested with lice, and so we all had to wash our hair each night with a vile-smelling potion called ‘Lorexane’.

We had little in the way of belongings; there was a communal record player, and each of us had a few 7-inch singles. Peter’s favourites were the Swedish group Abba, while the girls preferred The Police and the new Two-Tone Ska revival music.

In the staff office, there was a hardbound Black-and-Red notebook containing details of our weekly menu; the budget would be allocated to provide us with tasty delights such as roast chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots and broccoli. In reality we would regularly be given beans on toast or banana sandwiches. This kind of low-level fraud was considered normal and acceptable; if God had decided to punish us by sending us to live in this institution, surely we had no right to expect decent food?

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