Not long out of care, Colin's sense of security was again shattered when his stepfather left. It was, he remembers, "a time of great instability for me and I felt threatened by this." Not yet an adolescent, he had already been abandoned by both his real father and step-father, moved home on nine occasions, been shipped from school to school, and been placed in care. It is hardly surprising that during this period: "I felt a general distrust of the adults within my family. I was a child, I did not like the situation at the time and in a childlike simplistic manner put the blame on those who should have been solving the problem."
Colin's mother had been unhappy in her marriage for some time, and before her husband left she had already met another man, whom she married when Colin was twelve. At the time Colin was confused and angry, and refused to take his new stepfather's name, reverting instead to his mother's maiden name. But although Colin was resentful of the constant changes in his life, his second stepfather was clearly a good-hearted man who worked hard to provide for his family, and, most importantly, loved his new wife and her children dearly.
"My mother's marriage to my second step father has been a long and good one... He has stood by my mother for many years and I have great respect for him. He does make an effort to get on with me and I now regard him as being my father. He has given my mother the life she deserved but had never had."
Colin's second stepfather soon proved himself a source of stability in their lives, and in 1965 they all moved to Clyde Street in Sheerness, Kent, where they would stay for the next five years.
At Sheerness Secondary School, at the age of twelve or thirteen, Colin began to be curious about sex, about which he learned from his peers, sex-education classes at school, and a book, which he borrowed from the library and then discussed with his mother. He remembers that he started masturbating at around this age, but didn't utilise any pictorial images nor fantasize while doing so: "I never knew enough about sex to fantasise, it was more along the lines of 'I wonder what it would be like?'"
"The only pornography available to me at that time was a magazine called Parade which I remember seeing, and the ladies underwear pages within my mother's catalogue. If I had never seen a woman but only seen a sixties Parade I would have thought they only had an upper torso. The ladies underwear section was a source of erotica shared by most adolescent boys at that time. Neither forms played a role in my masturbation... I did it because it felt nice and it was interesting."
These thoughts and practices sound normal enough, but Colin was also exposed to less healthy sexual experiences and situations as an adolescent in Sheerness. Four experiences clearly stand out in his mind. On each occasion Colin was approached by an older man who tried to entice him into sexual activity. Although Colin resisted their advances, the experiences left him with an anger that would not abate. The first occasion was during the family's first year in Sheerness when, despite his new father being in regular employment, the family were still struggling financially. To help out, Colin began to work in the school holidays.
"One of the methods by which I financed my family was to work in a fairground. I earned ten shillings a day. There was a man who during the summer season rented a lock-up that backed onto the fair. His trade consisted of cheap gifts, which he sold to the visitors. A necklace and locket caught my eye as a possible present for my mother, but the price was beyond my reach. I spoke to the man about the item. He suggested that I visit him in his caravan. So I, a very lonely and vulnerable boy, went to the caravan as he had told me he may give me the necklace if I did. I half thought he may offer me a job, I also, to a point, knew his intention in that I knew it might be unpleasant. I wanted that gift. In the caravan the man pulled down my trousers, beneath them I was wearing shorts. I saw it at the time as 'bottling out' but did not allow him to remove the shorts and never received the gift."
The subsequent occasions were, Ireland says, "of a lesser nature though I remember them as if it was yesterday." The second event was when Ireland was twelve.
"On my way home I stopped to use the toilet. I was sat in a cubicle when a man (late teens — early twenties) looked over the dividing wall and offered me seven shillings and six pence. He never specified what he wanted in return. I sat where I was for a while, he had withdrawn. It's difficult for me to come to terms with, but I may have considered his offer. I was very young and very poor and also inquisitive, but when I came out he had gone... That man was not gay, he was a paedophile. So was the first."
The third time that a man approached him in Sheerness was at the cinema.
"On another occasion while watching a film at the cinema, a man had been going from child to child offering them ice-creams and drinks. I reported this man to the only 'official figure' I knew, a probation officer named Mr Bridges. The man was a local optician and I am still uncomfortable in the company of male opticians. Mr Bridges was unable to do anything."
The situation, as remembered, has a curious dream-like quality, suggesting that - as is so often the case with formative childhood experience - it elicited sufficiently powerful feeling that something has been left out, repressed, or distorted in remembering it. Ireland's fourth example is more mundane. The last such event was:
"A man who worked for a second-hand shop, he would pull a barrow around the town. He befriended me and later made it known that for sexual services he would give me money, I declined. I was just a child, how many more did they approach? They saw my vulnerability and attempted to abuse that, though I was never abused."
Although there was never any direct sexual contact, Colin felt upset, violated, and angry. These experiences, it seems, undermined his already insubstantial confidence in the world in which he lived, and suggested to him that he was always likely to be a victim, prey to these impulses of older, stranger and sometimes perverse people.