Category Archives: Family History

Stories about Adoption and Looked-after children. Random Musings. Long live Stories and Art!

I love it when I get feedback from people about the blog. Recently one reader asked whether I have seen the recent list published in The Guardian of 10 best books about adoption? Yes. I have, but as with most people, I can come up with my own favourite books.

My best friend at school was adopted and maybe that is why I was always attracted to stories about children who were looked after by adoptive or foster families.

One thing so amazing about life today in the internet age, is that one can discover so many things and learn so many things. If ONLY we had had this resource long ago, I think we could have found more books on adoption, or indeed more help of any other kind when we were bringing up our children. Today I entered “10 best books on Adoption” into the search engine and several lists came up – very informative.

I am just casting my mind back to some of the stories dealing with looked-after children (adopted/ fostered) that I loved as a child. Here are some:

“Ballet Shoes” by Noel Streatfeild – all 3 ‘Fossil’ children were adopted.

Ballet Shoes         The 3 Fossils

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett – Mary’s parents both died

My grandmother used to read me the old story “Little Lord Fauntleroy” and we enjoyed reading it together.   I felt so sorry for little Cedric, as he was not allowed to see his beloved mother.

I enjoyed the stories about the spirited adopted girl “Anne of Green Gables” by Lee Montgomery

 “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri. I felt so sad for her when she had to leave the mountain, her kind grandfather and go and stay in the strange big city.


Not all stories interest the next generation. None of the above stories interested our children particularly, although I am sure they would have enjoyed watching some of the modern day films made of the stories e.g. The Secret Garden and Heidi. I have loved watching those with our grandchildren.

The Secret Garden dvd






Fortunately for this small blog entry, I do remember reading one story about an adopted child to Sam, our older son. He really liked “Thursday’s Child” by Noel Streatfeild. The heroine was another feisty, brave adopted child.

“Nothing is going to stop Margaret Thursday from making her own way in the world – not a horrible orphanage, a cruel matron, or even the fact she was named after the day she was found!” quotation from Amazon.

Dear blog-reader – if you are still reading. Here is a further reflection on stories/books. During my own childhood I so loved a story entitled “Jam Tomorrow” by Monica Redlich. It was published by Thomas Nelson and Sons   and later published in paperback. Two young Canadian cousins had to come over and live in a vicarage with their English cousins because their parents had died. I have never met anyone who read this book. I suppose it must have been reasonably successful to be published in paperback as well as hardback, but I am simply musing over the fact that a work of art can have great value even if it does not hit “the big time”. And certainly it is quite irrelevant whether it “hits big money”.  It is very likely that it will strike a chord with  somebody somewhere.

An author or an artist never really knows all the people who have been touched by their book or their work of art.

This reflection tunes in with something I am reading at present – a collection of letters written by an excellent artist Jan Daum. The letters are dated 1952 – 1957. He thought he had ‘failed’ as he never made much money from his art. However, he was a good friend of my great-aunt and many branches of our family have some of his paintings and they continue to bring great delight to all who look at them.

Jan Daum was born in Indonesia in 1892 and studied in Haarlem and the Royal College of Art in London. I found information about him via Google. He was born well before the Facebook and self-promotion age, but someone somewhere has taken the time to put out information about him on the world wide web. I have always loved his picture below.

Jan Daum's drawing

Long live stories! Long live art!

Multiracial Family. Childhood artefacts remembered – D.

I realised recently that I have not asked D. for his quick memories of the children’s childhood. For this exercise nobody has been allowed a long period of cogitation.

(Before I mention his memories, I should say that since I indulged in a few from my own childhood, I should here mention some that he remembered from his own childhood – namely digging a network of drains in his back garden staying on a family farm and working out bus timetables for a fictional bus company.)

He came up with the musical toy we had for Lucy, our first baby. It came from Switzerland and is still in use with the latest grandchild!

musical box

Next he chose the Mr Men books that we read to all the children.

I don’t know when the “Little Miss” books arrived. They were written later and were probably not in time for our girls.

Sam’s bike of course came up as a significant part of his boyhood.








. . . . . . . . . . . .as did the tank of tropical fish. I don’t know why I did not come up with the fish tank.


Image courtesy of africa at  tropical fish







Image courtesy of digitalart at

Since D. often travelled abroad, I was the one who usually had to clean it out (not to mention who had to remove the poor little fish that died.)

As we talked about bringing up the children, we both remembered the intercom system that we had to use for our first babies. We lived in such an enormous manse and could not heat our bedroom enough to have the babies in, so we had to put them in a small bedroom and rely on the intercom.

One day I swear that a foreign language came through loud and clear. It must have been a quirk of the soundwaves. Sometimes one remembers the strangest things.

Multiracial Family. Childhood Memories (continued) – artefacts varied. .

The thing that spurred me on to ask our children for memories of their childhood, was something our third granddaughter said. She and her brother had been living abroad for over two years. When they were last in our house, she was four years old. When the children next visited us, she ran round the house saying “I remember that… I missed it. Oh. And I remember that… I missed it.”

She even “missed” the stool I used to have for her to reach the sink in the bathroom. Children can melt your heart sometimes!

It was she who plays with one item I remember from my childhood. It is a beautifully knitted woollen dress. It was probably made nearly 70 years ago.

 Doll's dress

Our other grandchildren have not been interested in dolls, but this little one loves playing with them at our house. She loves dressing up – herself – and dressing all the dolls. She always puts this particular dress on any doll that it can fit. In the picture below, the doll is a bit small for the dress, but I think the photo shows the dress off to advantage. The colour has not faded. It almost looks as good as new!

In my own childhood I did not have a Chinese doll. We bought this one in Malaysia for Lucy and Anna.

Interestingly enough I did have a black doll. Here is the proof.

O and doll

Something I remember from my own childhood is an artefact from Poland. My father visited there before World War 2. He brought back an oval piece of wood. It was stained very dark brown and the outline of a cathedral had been etched, thus shown in a light colour. Underneath were the words Krakow. As Poland was behind the Iron Curtain during my childhood, the name Krakow seemed very exotic to me. I no longer have the artefact, so cannot show the actual artwork.

Krakow - Cathedral 2

Krakow Cathedral







Anna mentioned as a memory one item that I would quote – not of my own childhood, but something that has been with me all through our children’s childhood and is with me every day today. The artist was called Mabel, Lucy Atwell. It is something that must have ‘saved’ the planet of many many pieces of paper. It is a shopping list that one can wipe clean every time the article has been bought.

Recycled shopping list

Instead of paper lists, I use it about twice a week, rub out what has been bought and start again. It has been in use for about 53 years so far. . . . It was this shopping list that started me off on the Memory project.

Camping abroad. Meeting people from different countries.

Camping was the only way we could afford to take our children abroad. But camping can be wonderful! You wake up and walk straight onto grass. You might hear birds sing in the early morning and you feel that you are right in the middle of the beauty of nature.

Our first tent

We have relatives in the south of Brittanny and we camped near them.

lookout            on beach

On one occasion they joined us and I remember the amazing clarity of the stars on one particular night – a sight that I shall never forget.

In France children often take their bikes onto campsites. We did not have room to carry bikes, but usually within a matter of a few moments, we would look up and see little Sam cycling round on someone’s bike and he would be in the midst of much jollity and the centre of attention. The response was much less friendly on a Cornish campsite but maybe we were just unlucky on that one occasion.

In France we visited the castles of the Loire,

Rog at Sully  Silhouette of Sam looking out from a window in a castle at Sully overlooking the river Loire.






We went down caves, went to the South and bathed in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. When Jah joined us he took part in running races around the campsites. He was a good runner and enjoyed winning!

He also enjoyed fishing and Sam joined in.

boys 2

I remember that once we visited friends in Finland and he was able to fish really late into the night, as it was still light.

Jah ready for fishing

In Northern Italy we visited an ecumenical centre high in the Alps. We also camped on the shore of Lake Garda. That was a much more international site and Sam took part in a winning basketball team – a moment of great triumph!

Once, when the boys were a bit older, on our way back home we camped in Northern France and met many young Muslims. They lived in a crowded Paris suburb and had been brought to the countryside by youth leaders. Interestingly they felt drawn to our boys and even though there was a language problem, they spent a long time together.

I am pleased that on our holidays we met people from many different countries and cultures.

Memories of childhood – artefacts continued. . . (2 – Lucy and Anna)

When I asked our four “children” whether there were any unusual or interesting things that reminded them of growing up in our family home, LUCY mentioned night storage heaters. (!!)

storage heater

I remember crouching before the one in our room, trying to get warm enough to dress for the day ahead. Lucy is remembering Gateshead in the days of no central heating in the Manse. Actually, the storage heaters of those days were not slim-line like in the picture. D. said he had to move one once and it was full of heavy bricks and electric wiring.

She also mentioned mosquito nets. We always slept under them in Malaysia


Anna remembered a copper kettle that my grandfather handed on to us.










Also the clock that has stood in all our halls.


It was given to us in our first home by the family of the church organist. Interestingly the organist was a young boy who suffered from Cerebral Palsy but he had a gift for music and enjoyed playing the organ now and again when the regular organist had a Sunday “off”. We, the congregation, were very happy with the arrangement.

The organist’s father said that their house was a bit small for such a fine, large clock. Actually each time we moved house, the next house was smaller until we are now in a pretty small house, but it looks great in the hall.

Anna also mentioned something that I myself had chosen to mention one day.

(See next time I post a “Memory” blogpost)

Recycled shopping list


Camping Holidays at home and abroad. Promoting a world view

.As we near the end of this summer – 2015 – and since D and I have just returned from the North West Highlands of Scotland, I am remembering the many camping holidays we had there as a family. The weather was usually a mixture of sunshine and rain and how we rejoiced when the sky was blue and we could enjoy the sun, the sea and the glorious views!

beside the sea 2          Scotland


beside the sea       IMG_0014

Another time I’ll show pictures of times we spent camping in France and Italy. I have just realised that if we had had more money it might have been a good idea to take the children to a Caribbean island, since they came from Caribbean backgrounds ,  but that would have been entirely impossible for us as a family in the 1970s and 1980s. Indeed, this would have been so financially impossible that it never once occurred to us.

Sam was descended from people who came from Jamaica and Jah from people from Dominica (and England). We just had to do the best we could to tell them about those colourful islands and what we considered far more important – namely to help the children to grow up with a world view and a positive view of themselves as Black British citizens.

The need for a “Little brother the same colour as me”.

This summer – 2015 – when D and I were enjoying a holiday in the Highlands of Scotland, I thought of the times we took all our children to Scotland. This year, D and I stayed in houses but in those long ago days we always camped. I don’t think we ever met any other mixed-race families, although we certainly met many families with lovely red hair.

We enjoyed local Highland Games a few times

Highland dancing           and on one occasion, enjoyed watching a rumbustious raft-race. I remember the great atmosphere of excitement and competition in both kinds of events.

The children usually made friends on the campsites. They were wonderful holidays – as indeed was ours this year.

Our first tent

This is a picture of our first tent. Five of us slept in it. My father lent it to us, although we thought that he had GIVEN it to us. We realised our mistake when we told him we had sold it and bought a bigger tent. Fortunately he was OK about it. Phew!

Sam was always a happy even-tempered little boy. He was adored by his big sisters. I don’t remember any arguments between the three children, but evidently – being normal children – they were quite capable of teasing and annoying each other at times. I suppose D and I had simply not been present at such times.

It was at the end of a holiday in Scotland that we heard Sam utter a heartfelt wish that jet-propelled us into seeking another child to join our family.

As I remember, Lucy and Anna had been paddling and playing in a sparkling brook. Maybe Sam had been trying to build a dam – or a separate activity. Anyway there must have been an argument and we suddenly heard him exclaim.

“When we get our little brother-the-same-colour-as-me, you’ll SEE!”

D and I both sat up. This was a shock. It didn’t sound like our even-tempered Sam. However, he had a point.

We had always intended to get a little brother the same colour as Sam. We both wondered where time had gone. Sam was now aged six. Why had we left this so late?

Three children

We knew that the climate of opinion about interracial adoption had been changing over the intervening years. Many people were against such adoptions, which made us feel a bit strange. We could understand many of the arguments against inter-racial adoption and yet Sam had always seemed happy, had been such an integral part of our family and when he was born, he definitely needed a loving family to adopt him. We also were fully committed to bringing him up to feel proud of who he was, a Black British person.

We did not know whether we had left operation ‘little brother’ too late. We did not know whether we would be approved once again as would-be adoptive parents.  We resolved to look into the situation as a matter of urgency as soon as we returned home.

Jah’s school celebrates 100 years. The importance of drama and the Arts in education.

 One of the biggest excitements I can recall about Jah’s Primary school days was the celebration of 100 years of the school. There were many Centenary events.

The children were very well prepared. They were introduced to elderly past-pupils and enjoyed asking them questions. Sometimes Jah came home open-eyed, with tales of how strict things were in long-ago days. He was shocked to hear about use of the cane especially.

In the attached picture, we can see how drama was used to great effect. The children were all dressed up as they would have been 100 years ago. This dressing up certainly dramatised the whole event. When we look at the photo, however we cannot sense how worried the children were, in case their teacher actually tried to use the cane.

100 year old school(Jah is the child wearing spectacles.)

The fact that this re-enactment stays so vividly in my mind, reminds me all over again of the importance of Arts in educating children. When the children were dressed up in their clothes of yesteryear, that impressed them, but to see their own class teacher transformed into a strict looking teacher of long ago, impressed them even more. (She had not told them that she would also be dressing up!)

To continue thinking about the benefit of the Arts, some well-arranged school trips introduce children to experiences that they might never otherwise have experienced. I know that some children today are incredibly privileged, but many are not. School days and shared experiences are so important for all children.

Other Arts-related things that I remember that enriched our children’s school days are:

  • Drama groups visiting the school.
  • Learning from watching a film company make a film of Anna’s choir and school orchestra (even though she was brimming over with indignation that they mostly filmed one boy to the exclusion of the rest of the class). . .
  • An uproariously exciting visit by a Caribbean poet – I think it was John Agard. I do know that the children walked back to the school in a high state of delight and high spirits!

John Agard's poems




  • An outing to a children’s theatre production
  • An outing to the National Gallery
  • A visit by the poet Benjamin Zephaniah to Sam’s Secondary school.

Wicked World

When Anna grew up and became a Primary school teacher, she took the children from her Tower Hamlets school into a local churchyard. Many of the children had never really looked at wild flowers before and they really enjoyed learning the names and looking at the shapes of all the different flowers. It was a learning experience for them to discover beauty all around them.

In her role as a dance educator, Lucy did a dance project in Southampton and was surprised to learn that some of the children had not even seen the sea, so she organised a trip to the sea before proceeding with the project.

Sam has grown up to be a social worker and he told me how effective a drama workshop had been for him on a training day. The actor who was acting as a client, shot up from the hospital bed and challenged something Sam said. Sam found that dramatic intervention extremely helpful.  It was something he would always remember.

Long live drama and  the Arts!

Jah and Sam. Some of their memories of childhood – artefacts (1) + Importance of a world view.

One day I asked our four “children” whether there were any interesting objects that reminded them of growing up in our family home. I didn’t want a whole list – just a few quick responses.

Jah was the first to reply. He mentioned my old sewing machine (nowadays used more as an ornament!)

Sewing machine

Also my collection of bells (still looked at and played with now and again by the grandchildren)


SAM’s Memories.

Sam said that he remembered events and experiences, not necessarily artefacts.   However, then he remembered break dancing and he thought of the piece of lino that he and Jah used to put on the pavement in front of our house, in order to do their “wicked moves”.  (Unfortunately this beloved piece of lino does not appear in the photo below.)

Jah and friends

Hip Hop boy small copy

(Courtesy freedigitalphotos)

I thought that Sam would mention his Action Man toys, but he did not. However, when he thought further, he realised how much his racer bike had meant to him, so that is definitely one artefact that he remembers with joy. (The picture shows him discovering it one Christmas morning.)bike


I was surprised and quite pleased that Jah also mentioned the large world map that we had.

world map


(This illustration is not of our actual map. The original had been drawn with illustrations to interest children and we had it for many years.)


We took it out to Malaysia and had it laminated and put into a light frame. It reminded us of “back home” in England.  Then, when we were back in Britain, it reminded us of countries where friends and loved ones live. It was also useful for general knowledge. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of the actual map today.

We regarded it as our duty to have a world view and to rejoice in diversity as we brought up our multiracial family. This was not just for the sake of the boys, but for all our sakes.

An international outlook was one that I had been encouraged to have from childhood and I believe that in today’s world we all need to see beyond our own small boundaries.

In another  post I’ll share Lucy and Anna’s childhood memories. and possibly some of my own.

The Traveller children come to Jah’s school c. 1984

 Shortly after the beginning of the Spring term, a very important announcement was made at Jah’s school. He was impressed by what the class had been told and as he told us all the news, his eyes were open wide, befitting the great Importance, as he saw it. A group of Travellers were going to attend the school. Two were going to be in his class. Jah and his friends took very seriously the fact that they were not to use the term “Gypsies”. We parents were instructed on the correct terminology. They told us that the children should always be described as Travellers.

In retrospect, I do not know whether the children were told that the visitors came from a long-standing tradition. I do not know whether they were told that these particular Travellers came from Ireland, but I think they were told not to comment rudely on their clothes. They were certainly informed in a respectful manner and all the children were well briefed to treat the newcomers well.

There was quite a build-up to the arrival of the Traveller children and Jah set off full of enthusiasm and curiosity on their scheduled first morning. Unfortunately, however their first day was postponed. Apparently two teenage girls from the community had gone missing and the police were involved in trying to find them. This added to the strangeness of the situation and the waiting school population decided that this dramatic turn of events added enormously to the whole scenario.

Eventually the Traveller children did start coming to school. They particularly liked painting sessions, but the teachers had to remove their big pieces of paper quickly; otherwise the children simply re-started by painting another picture on top of the original.

child paiinting

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

We parents did not hear anything officially from the school about how the Travellers’ children settled. It was Jah and his friends who told us about the painting class scenario. School may have seemed a strange place to the newcomers. In the end, they did not stay many weeks, before moving on.

As a family, we were able to watch the Travellers. They lived near our house on a piece of land above a railway tunnel entrance. They broke down a wall to access the space. I do not know whether the top of the tunnel was fenced off. It looked quite a dangerous place, but the children must have been warned of the danger and there were no dreadful accidents.

Many years later, in the late 1990s, we met some other Irish Traveller children in a small park in Camden town. They were very loving and interesting children. They had extremely broad Irish accents. We used to go with our baby granddaughter into a small park and the Travellers lived next to the park. The big girls were very kind to the baby. They were very keen to talk to us and I enjoyed hearing them talk about their travels and catching glimpses of their life.

Katharine Quarmby, a ‘writing’ friend of mine has written a book about her experience of Travellers. She has made many friends in that community. I can thoroughly recommend her book. It was published in 2013.

No Place to call Home

No Place to Call Home: Inside the Real Lives of Gypsies and Travellers

1 Aug 2013

by Katharine Quarmby

Kindle Edition        £8.54

There is another thing that I can remember vividly about Jah’s first year at the London school . . . see next post.