Flying Under the Radar – autobiography by Tony Inwood

Images above: Tony Inwood and his biography ‘Flying Under the Radar’

Children need love and affection, and the consequences can be devastating if they don’t receive it

Reading Tony Inwood’s biography Flying Under the Radar brings to mind the Philip Larkin poem This be the verse, which starts with the famous first lines:

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

‘They may not mean to, but they do.’

An apposite poem, not only because of its sentiments but because Tony also turned to writing poetry to express him feelings, having had rough start in life because of his parents.

Tony and his partner Simon Rodway are well known in Chiswick. They have lived here more than thirty years, have lots of friends and play an important part of the life of Christ Church on Turnham Green. Tony is also known to many people in Chiswick for his gardening and decorating skills, having worked at both for many years.

Those years have been happy and settled, but it was not always so, as he recounts with honesty and clarity. Both parents had mental health problems and both went on to suffer what used to be called  a ‘nervous breakdown,’ his father also attempting suicide.

Life on a small family farm was tough going in the 1950s. They did not have friends, so there was no social life to speak of. During Tony’s first six years there wasn’t much on offer in the way of affection from his parents and the relationship between them was increasingly strained, his childhood overshadowed by tension and rows.

When he was six his mother left, taking Tony and his two brothers with her, but she soon found she could not cope on her own and arranged for them to be taken into care. What followed was a succession of care arrangements – fostering, a period in an assessment centre and eight years in a children’s home, meanwhile changing school eight times.

Craving love, he clearly found it difficult to fit in to foster homes, resenting the love the foster parents gave their own children:

“What I wanted … was an unrealistic kind of inclusion into the family unit, but far more powerfully, I was subconsciously crying out for physical warmth and affection. I now regard the lack of this as the most destructive force in my early life.”

School holidays were always a problem. There was always a negotiation about where the boys would go.

“Each time the end of term drew near I used to dread the upheaval of having to try and sort out with the staff and the children’s department where exactly I was going to stay that particular holiday … I felt like a useless piece of luggage that had to be deposited somewhere for six weeks.”

Both parents vied for their children’s attention, visiting at unscheduled and unhelpful hours, messing up their relationships with their foster families so in the end they were not able to continue fostering the children. In accounts from social workers Tony’s parents come across as seeing the world only from the perspective of how they are affected – not how their behaviour might have an impact on their children.

When he left school, with no sense of purpose or self-worth, he drifted into living in hippy squats and taking drugs. The way in which he was chucked out of local authority care to fend for himself as an adult, with no help or support, was brutal.

Fortunately for Tony, Simon Rodway had been a Child Care Officer who had worked at Caldecott Community Children’s Home. He had known Tony and one of his brothers since they were children. Colin found the transition to the adult world easier and managed to set himself up with work and a social life, while Tony appeared to be spiralling.

The account is very matter of fact, but it is quite clear that Simon rescued Tony. He took him in to his flat in Shepherd’s Bush, giving him a home and over time their relationship has grown into a mutual friendship, and partnership.

That is one relationship which ‘saved’ Tony. The other was his relationship with God, whom he also credits with helping him find happiness and tranquility.

To those who have stability and love growing up, it’s something which is a given, which they take for granted – and should be able to. But Tony’s biography spells out just how devastating the consequences can be for children whose childhood lacks love.

Flying under the Radar: A Story of Hope and Healing is available from Amazon, and from Bookcase at 268 Chiswick High Road.

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