A good place to start would be with my very first memory and that takes me back to when I was about four years old. It was the scream my seven-year-old sister gave out that was to stick with me all these years. She’d just been whacked full force on her hand with a cane and the man who did it was my foster father. I can’t remember what it was for but I got it first, a couple of wee baby taps that wouldn’t hurt a flea and that’s what put Maggie off her guard as she must have expected the same. By the time she’d finished doing the Highland fling he’d gone from the room.
My foster father was about thirty-five and had a face like a ferret.We’d ended up with a foster family because the Welfare wanted to get us out of the children’s home and placed with a foster family so that we could have as normal an upbringing as possible, but I don’t think they really knew what went on or how hard it could be sometimes for children that were boarded out. As Maggie was finding out. But, for the Welfare, the main thing was making sure that we were away from our parents and away from the tinker’s life which they thought was so bad.
‘Bastard!’ Maggie swore. ‘C’mon, we’ll go outside.’
We left the room and made our way quietly along the hall and out the front door where the other bairns were waiting for us. Sheena, Lizzie,Wullie, and Rab were our foster parents’ natural children. The oldest was Wullie at eleven years of age, with Sheena aged ten, Lizzie aged eight and the youngest was Rab at seven years of age. Even for them there was not a lot of love to be had in that cold, drab place.
‘Did you get the cane?’ Rab asked, wiping green snot from his nose with his sleeve. He was the same age as Maggie and had inherited his father’s ferret features.
‘Just one,’ Maggie said, blowing into her hands.
‘That’s bugger all, I got near a hundred once, no just on my hands but the backs o my legs too.’
‘Shut your pus Rab!’ his sister Sheena hissed. She was a sullen girl with unkempt mousy brown hair which her father cut himself. He cut everyone’s hair including his own. Both
my foster parents worked and as well as their own wages they had the money that the Welfare paid them for our keep, but that man would do anything to save a few quid.
We wandered off to the pond but before long, Jim, a tractor man from one of the farms, stopped beside us with a warning.
‘Don’t be walking out on that ice,’ he shouted. ‘It’ll no take yer weight.’
‘Aye, we’ll bide off it,’ Sheena roared back. He drove off and his collie dog was quick to follow the tractor after a kick in the ribs from Rab.
We all leaned on the wooden fence that surrounded the pond.Wullie pulled a piece and jam from his pocket.
‘Where did you get that?’ Rab asked.
‘I sneaked it when they were getting a hiding.’
‘Give us half.’
‘Go on, give us half o’ it,’ Rab pleaded, but was ignored. We were always starving. Every single day we got the same thing to eat – white tripe – and it was horrible stuff. My foster
mother would boil the tripe in a big pot and that was our ever staple diet – boiled white tripe! There was no favouritism for their own children but I really hated having to eat tripe all the time. But it was a clear choice, even at the age of four – you either ate what was in your bowl, no matter how horrible it was, or you went hungry. Sometimes my foster father didn’t care if I ate the stuff or not. Other times, for some inexplicable
reason, he would fly into a rage and force me to eat. His method was to to pinch my nose with two fingers, then hold my head back and literally ram the tripe down my gullet as I