Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas at Penwinnard Boys' Home


The residents of Penwinnard Boys’ Home are boys from eleven to eighteen who do not have a home, some because they have lost their parents, others because their parents are unsuitable, violent or criminal or maybe drug addicts. 

Christmas tends to be a mixture of joy and wistfulness. Boys go missing at Christmas more often than at other times of the year.  In ‘You Gotta Have Manners,’ Barry goes looking for his father but can’t find him.

Here is an excerpt:

Barry Zahedi, Penwinnard boy, slumped in a chair in the lounge-room of a friend’s place. He hadn’t been able to find his father, who’d gone missing rather than face court over several outstanding warrants, and had visited various friends and acquaintances instead. He wasn’t wanted. He knew he wasn’t wanted. The day was overcast, but it wasn’t raining, and maybe he could get a lift. Buses and trains were all booked out, he already knew that. Would there be a present waiting for him under the Christmas tree at home? Sean said there was always a Christmas present for every one of the Penwinnard boys. He picked up his school-bag currently stuffed with wrinkled and not very clean clothes, and quite courteously, took his leave of Jorvan’s mum. Jorvan was out somewhere, he didn’t know where.

Three hours later, he still trudged, weary. It didn’t appear that anyone was thinking of offering him a lift. He thought of calling home and asking for help, but he didn’t. He was tough. It was the cold wind that was making his eyes water. They were not tears.


And Sid, who had once had a family.

 Sid hurried after Bob, sometimes trotting to keep up. Bob tolerated him, but wouldn’t go slow just because his legs were shorter. He said he needed the exercise, and being inside was driving him berserk. They both wore heavy parkas and both wore the hoods up, though the rain was currently not much more than a dampness in the air. They were on the cliff-top path, and beneath them, the sea churned, angry and a bleak grey. It seemed months since they’d seen it blue. The wind was bitter.

Bob remarked, “In the Southern Hemisphere, they have Christmas in the summer. I reckon that’d be much better.”

“Ever had a summer Christmas?”

“A couple of times. It was great.”

“Tell me?”

“I don’t think so.”

After a pause, Sid said, “I sort of remember a wonderful Christmas when I was little. I don’t know where I was, not with my mum, but there was a Christmas tree and there were three kids and there were Santa presents, little things that we found on our beds when we woke up, and lots of lollies. And then the real presents later – I remember an orange tip-truck. I don’t know what happened to it. I think every time I was shifted, things’d be just left behind and lost.”

“Mmmm. That’s the way it is with kids like us.”

“Have you had things that you lost?”


“Tell me?”

Bob turned to face the sea, staring out at the spray where waves burst onto black rocks. Something was floating, just a bit of sea-wrack. It was like all of them, just being tossed where life chose, sometimes floating free, sometimes being hurt. Wonderful times, when he’d seen tropical beaches and great mountains and a game park in Africa where lions and elephants roamed free. And bad times. Two masked men with knives, and spurting blood, and Luc. He wondered where Luc was now. He’d never been arrested, he knew that, though nearly all the others had been. It would be silly to tell Sid anything. Better to keep his past as dark as he knew how. Secrets were not secrets when even a single other person knew.

He said, “There was a book once that I loved. It was called ‘The Magic Faraway Tree.’ It was one of the first books I read all by myself. I forget how I came by it, but it was very tattered. I bought myself a new copy a few days ago.” He laughed, embarrassed, “Silly of me. It wasn’t the same. It couldn’t be. I was only about five when I had that book.”

“My mum was good sometimes when I was little. She might have read to me sometimes.”

“You lived with your dad for a while, too, didn’t you?”

“He was all right. He used to drive too fast though, and then he was gone too.”

“Someone told me he’d been in so many places that he couldn’t sort them out. So he started keeping a special box, photos and souvenirs, things like that, just so he remembers.”



The staff do their best.

 In the Penwinnard dining room, Helen MacKender arranged the score of gifts under the Christmas tree. She’d chosen each one as best she could. The boys may have been dirty and rough and noisy, but she did care about them – just that she preferred them not too close. She’d be having dinner there with her husband, though she seldom did normally. It was she who’d decreed that they were never to help in food preparation. She didn’t trust their hygiene.

The tables were laid with clean table-cloths, and they were decorated, as was the whole of the dining room. It was a favourite job, especially among the younger boys. There had only been one mishap, when Wally had been showing off at the top of a ladder. Unhurt, luckily. The boys had been hunted out not long before, though there always seemed to be at least one peering in.


These excerpts are from the book 'You Gotta Have Manners.' Christmas was eventful, as it
often is. A new boy who had just lost his family in a car accident, two teenagers whose whole family had been brawling, their father imprisoned and their mother in hospital, and Sean and Zeke, who took off for the place they wanted to live, to the ones they wanted to be Mum and Dad.

The ebook available on most online booksellers: 
Or for the paperback: The Book Depository has free freight:


This is Rob, skateboard king.

So for all of you who have a family and for all of you who don't, make the best of it. It only comes once a year.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. 



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