Chef Yes Chef (54 years and still Counting)

Chapter Twenty One

Adoption, a massive step at our age

Adoption, what a journey that was, in a way the process we had to go through was what prompted me to write this book. I was forced to remember things about my past that I had no recollection of at all. I was being asked questions about myself that I could not answer. Not because I didn’t want to but simply because I couldn’t remember. I’ve always been terrible at names and dates but there was so much more that I had absolutely no recall about. Jane tells a story of us driving down a motorway back while we were going through the process, I was on the phone to my sister, it was a long call and I think I got a bit animated but she was telling me things I had absolutely no idea about at all, things about our childhood that I had no idea about, it was a real learning curve and I think one for Jane too the way she was hanging on to her seat and telling me to watch how I was driving, although not quite as politely as that!

The adoption process is long and convoluted, as it needs to be, it is not something to be entered into lightly. We had months of meetings with our assigned social worker, Helen and she was brilliant, no she really was. there were checks on us of course and interviews to attend, a long course that we had to do over a number of weeks. It was on this course we met a couple, younger than us but we got on really well, Kaya and Algy, today Jane and Kaya are best buddies and talk on the phone at least 3 times a week. 

Some of the harrowing stories we heard about children leaves you wondering about folks, how nasty, inhumane and just plain horrible some people are, and how awful the world is sometimes. The good thing however is that we are not all like that.

Between our first application for adoption to completing the course must have taken at least 18 months, partly because they lost our first application and it was a few months before we realised. Then it took around 6 months before they matched a child to us. Our friends journey was a lot quicker, their initial application had not been lost and they had the details of a child in front of them within weeks of completion. They had a 3-year-old who had, as they all seem to have had, a bad first 3 years but we were so happy for them. When the match came through for us it started to get real, a whole new ball game. We were first talked through what he was like. Just coming up to his 5th birthday he was in foster care over the other side of the county. He had two sisters, both younger than him and they too had been taken into care. The two girls had been placed together with a lovely couple in Norwich but the boy, Connor, could not go with them.

We then got more details about him along with a photograph and his history, which was a difficult one to say the least. We had to put together a story book about ourselves, where we lived, our pets, etc which was passed onto him by way of preparation. We eventually got to meet him, but this does not happen quickly, the social worker had to be convinced that both sides were happy to proceed. Right at the last minute, a day or two before we were due to meet Connor for the first time there was a hiccup. Our social worker Helen came to see us, his foster parents had been given our details and Anne, the foster mother said there could be a potential problem! It turns out that, and this is so hard to believe but it’s true, Anne was once the best friend of my sister when she was around 12 or so. Anne lived across the road from us and apparently spent a lot of time in our house back then, she even said my mother taught her how to iron! It also appeared that Connor had been to my home town, to see Anne's mother, who lived only about 5 doors down from my mother at the time, a few times over the previous 2 years that Connor had been with her. How small a world do we live in? it just doesn’t seem possible. I never knew Anne, by the time she and my sister were friends I was at college and hardly ever home, especially during the day so there was no worry about any conflict of interest or anything, thankfully. When we did eventually get a photograph of Connor he looked just like me and my brothers at his age, now just turned 5.

A few weeks before we had heard about Connor I met up with Anton Edlemann in London and we had dinner together, at Quo Vardis I think it was. I said to him, I am about to become a dad. He did a double take, his eyes widened, the food almost fell out of his mouth, and said, does Jane know? It was priceless, I’ll never forget the look on his face. Although I doubt if he’ll remember. 

We met with Connor a couple of times and got to take him to our house on a couple of occasions to get him used to it. A few hundred meters from ours there was an old church with a round tower and it could be seen from a mile or so away. As soon as I saw it I pointed it out to Connor so he would know where he was from a distance, then every time after that we had a game of see who could say “I can see the church, I said it first”. He very soon made sure he was watching for it on every journey.

The day came when he was moving in with us, that was emotional, October 5th I think it was just 2 weeks after his 5th birthday. It was half term so he had a few days at home with us before he had to go to his new school. He was really fortunate with that, as we lived in a very small community in the country, he got to go to the small village primary school. He loved it and made some good friends. 20 years later he’s now working away from home, we desperately hope he manages to settle somewhere – soon.  His sisters, now 4 of them as his birth mother went on to have another 2 girls, both of which were taken away at birth, were all adopted by the same couple that took on the first two and they still live in Norfolk. 

Official adoption day, we all had to attend court to make it official and they gave 

us flowers, which was a lovely gesture

It looks like we were thinking, he’ll grow into them! He is still a poser by the way!

Rural life really suited us, the house we were renting had large grounds and we kept chickens. Jane got half a dozen for my birthday one year, probably 2004 and we had them right up to when we moved again, the flock ever increasing, with too many cocks, as is always the case. We had lots of eggs and escaping chickens kept turning up followed by their latest brood. They would escape the pen, lay a clutch of eggs then reappear with their chicks once hatched, wanting to re-join the others.

I got what most men want at some stage in their lives, a ride on lawn mower, we had a lot of grass, and thanks to that mower the lawns looked superb very quickly. We had apple trees, both cooking and eating along with a Victoria plum tree and of course a pear tree after which the house was named, until that is one year during a big storm it blew over.

Our neighbours were an interesting lot.  I’ve already made a brief mention of them but they deserve more. The house we lived in used to be where the farmer lived. The farm was tenanted from a large local estate who we were renting it from. Ted the farmer still toiled the land, all arable, and he had built himself a new house round the corner about 150 yards away. Ted and his wife were lovely people, very friendly and helpful. Between them and us were two council houses, semi’s. Peter lived in the nearest to us and Dawn & Brian, in the other.

Both couples had lived in their respective house for a very long time from what I gathered. Across the fields from us, 2 fields away was what was once the rectory to the church as previously mentioned. This was sold about a year after we moved into our house but prior to that the elderly couple that lived there employed Peter as a gardener (of sorts), they also kept a few sheep and pigs that Peter also used to help care for. One day he brought home a very young lamb, it’s mother had rejected it, so Peter brought it home to look after it. That lamb stayed in his house for a good while. Then not long after that one of the pigs had a litter, the runt of which was not expected to live, so Peter brought that home too to see if he could keep it going. That pig stayed with Peter for at least the next 5 years, it may have been longer. for the first year at least, it lived in the house with him (he was single) until it became too big. Eventually Peter built and ark and the pig then lived outside, not penned in, just free to roam. It grew, and grew and grew. It was free to wander, anywhere, and often made it into our garden, by the time it got there though it was exhausted, so it just lay down and went to sleep, it sometimes went to sleep in the middle of the road, there was no way round it at all.

One day I came across Peter sobbing his eyes out, it turns out the pig had gotten into his kitchen and couldn’t get out again as its bum was so big it knocked the door shut as it turned around, it then trampled everything flat that it came across on the ground floor, the cooker, table, chairs, sofa, it was as though a steamroller had been through the house. 

Peter had a bit of a menagerie in the end, he had two Muscovy ducks and two geese, he dug a pond for them (in our field) and filled it with water. We also had a long barn with our property, he was given a horse, yes given, it was a magnificent Suffolk Punch Mare called Stella, before we knew it she was living in our barn, no by your leave but we didn’t mind! Shortly after he acquired a trap to go with his horse, it too ended up housed in our barn. He used to ride Stella to the pub most Sundays, eventually, when he was thoroughly sozzled he would ride her home again. I say he used to ride her home, what I really mean is he would climb on her and off she would walk, him swaying about on top, eventually falling asleep as she walked along until he would inevitably fall off. As he lay sleeping in the undergrowth at the side of the road she would just stand there and wait for him to wake and get back on. She always got him home bless her. Then there was Marley, his little Norfolk Terrier and a great ratter! I dare say you could only find a Peter in Norfolk! Next door to him were Dawn & her husband, they had Tilly, a sheep, which they would take for a walk most days on a lead, I think she too spent time in their house but most of her time in a shed they had, I kid you not.

When the rectory was sold a lovely couple moved in with their son & 3 daughters, their son Mikie was Connors age and they got on well. Mikie’s mother, Emma Bridgewater, yep that one and his father Matthew kept Peter on doing odd jobs and when Matthew took over part of the land to start a small shoot then Peter was pretty much gamekeeper. I shot a few times with them and even stood in my own garden a few times on one of the drives, magical.

                             Connor with Peter & Stella                                                   Peter’s ducks in our garden

As 2005 drew to a close Connor had been with us for a year and we were totally settled in Norfolk, I still had lots of work on all over the country, indeed I was doing a lot of driving but always tried to get home every night. Stories at bedtime we felt were an important part of the day for Connor. Most Saturdays I would be out shooting and, on many occasions, both Connor and Jane came along too as beaters and help with the dogs. Within a few months of Connor being with us I heard about Holt rugby club and their juniors’ teams so we ended up every Sunday morning playing tag rugby with the 5 and 6 year olds over at Holt rugby club and we all loved it. Connor was really good at it and had he stuck with it he would have made a great fly or scrum half, especially as he liked to be in charge He was fast and nimble and would really get stuck in. the group consisted of about 12 or 14 most weeks, they even got me involved in the coaching, it was a fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning. 

                    Connor with his Rugby Medal                                            Connor playing Rugby, he is the No 9

   Connor (foreground in the yellow vest) tackling Robert                          In full flow being chased Megan                   


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