Where were we? Right, we shall continue where we left off…
When my daughter made contact with me, she had done her homework. She is a very, very, sharp and smart lady. She had also been though Somerset House with a tooth comb. She had tracked down her named Father, who to be fair, the years had not been any kinder too than you would expect to a working class Brixton lad who had never had a job and was a paranoid schizophrenic…she had also figured out that I had two brothers, one born when I was eight and a half, and one born when I was 13, and a Mother still alive. She fired off letters to both brothers asking them to forward one onto my Mother, and told her own dear brother that she had tracked me down (needless to say, they hadn’t spoken on friendly terms in years).
These letters exploded like Barnes Wallis bouncing bombs in various households.
Joss was delighted. It was another chance to play the role his family would have preferred him to play all those years. In fact later, one of his sisters would add to the narrative by injecting one of her own – there was nothing wrong with her darling brother until he had got mixed up with that cruel woman who had taken his children away from him at which point he had lost his mind….
Yeah, right, thanks for that one. That one ended when Joss sadly died a few months later, having ‘supported’ his daughter by sending her fivers every time his sickness benefit allowed, and finally me getting a phone call from his partner telling me that I needed to pay for another car if I wanted to attend his funeral (I really, really, didn’t) because ‘his daughter’ and his sister were so upset that they were refusing to travel in the same car as me – and whilst I was on the phone, could I please listen to her confessions regarding her relationship with Joss, ‘cos she couldn’t talk to anyone else. It’s a wonder my head didn’t explode.
My son was furious with his sister. He had realised that if I knew where his sister was then I knew where he was – and he had not the slightest desire to dig up his birth mother. He was, as he explained to me when I met him months later, very, very, happy with his adoptive parents, they had given him a wonderfully happy and secure childhood, he had got a double first at university, now had a brilliant career, and needed the complication of another mother in his life like a hole in his head.
Not my daughters narrative at all – and a classic example of how two people can grow up in the same house with the same parents, adoptive or not, at the same time, and end up with two totally different ‘back stories’. They are both totally genuine – they just see things differently. Like witnesses who end up giving 15 different descriptions of the same gunman.
But the real humdinger was the letters that ended up with my brothers. The equivalent of a direct hit on the armoury. They are both solicitors. Of course Number One brother did the correct thing and handed over his copy to his (our) mother. She now has a major logistical problem….
You may recall that I went to boarding school at 3 in Guernsey. In fact my Barnardos notes tell me that I went into care at 6 weeks, it doesn’t tell me where or why. I can deduce, from known facts the following. My mother had suffered not just through the war, but a major rift with her family caused by her abandoning her ‘duty’ to care for my down’s syndrome uncle, Popsy, to marry my father after knowing him for all of six weeks. Don’t ask me, I don’t know. She could expect no support from my father’s family, for had he not broken off a six year engagement to my aunt’s best friend to marry Mama? He had spent the war in bomb disposals and probably wasn’t in great mental shape himself. Now she was stuck in still war time rationed Guernsey, having given birth to a 13lb monster, who had promptly given her whooping cough. I note from the social workers interview with her in my notes that I am blamed for giving her whooping cough – who says it wasn’t the other way round? Still, its her story and that’s how she sees it.
Fair to say she wasn’t enamoured by me? She had enough reasons. I truly don’t have any memories of her at all, beyond a darkened bedroom. Interestingly, when I do meet up with older brother, one of the first things he says, unprompted, is that his strongest memory of her was ”forever being ill and lying in a darkened bedroom’ – with orders not to disturb her. My memories are all of my Father, and he wasn’t the most demonstrative of men, but he was the one who always turned up to collect me from boarding school, and take me hither and thither.
When I was eight, I had a tumour in my cheek. The resultant operation required extensive plastic surgery, which took months in those days. A bare minimum of six months for just one graft. Three months from thigh to wrist, then another three months from wrist to cheek. The maximilian unit at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, since you ask. 1956. It was still located in Nissen huts, not the establishment you see today. I howled my eyes out when my brother forwarded without comment a letter he had found written by me to my Mother. I was busy reassuring her that I quite understood it was too far to visit me, that daddy had been to see me, and that I would have to go to my grandmother in Liverpool to recover. I was trying to make her laugh about how much taller than the nurses I had grown. That letter was still in its envelope, addressed to 8, Addington Road, Reading. An insurmountable distance from Oxford, you will agree. We really didn’t have a relationship at all.
Naturally, logically, I assumed that she was too upset to look at me. My grandmother was suitably horrified by my face. She and my aunt both loathed my Mother. Why would they disabuse me of whatever was going on in my head? I was eight. Why would I think she was pregnant and having my brother?
So brother number one was born into a household where I was a fleeting visitor, a night here or there, until he was five, when I was seen no more. I’m never mentioned – and at four or five you don’t challenge your parents and say ‘hey, didn’t I used to have a sister?’ Brother number two is born into a household in which I have never spent a single night in his memory. The narrative is complete.
It does get a bit more complicated than that when my Father commits suicide, and leaves instructions with brother number one to let me know. AS it happens, I am somewhat forewarned, because he contacts me out of the blue by an amazing circuitous route not three weeks beforehand. He wants to see me. I leap in a car, go to the address given and am met by my Father. My mother, bizarrely, sits sewing as though there is no one else in the room – she neither looks at me nor speaks to me. My father strikes up a chatty conversation that would have been totally appropriate had I been an ex-neighbour…’Oh, yes, you remember our two boys, yes, both doing very well, the garden’s coming on well here too’. My head is revolving at a rate of knots and I drive to my aunt’s house at 1am. I wasn’t that close to her, but who else could I tell? Three weeks later, I get the phone call from number one brother to tell me he has been found in his car at Lake Vyrnwy.
I have to send my birth certificate to the police inspector who dealt with his death to prove that no matter what anyone says, I am his daughter. I sit through the inquest – there is my mother (and number one brother) in the witness box ‘my husband and I and our two sons live at…..’) I am sitting less than 10 foot away from her…I go to his funeral with a gay friend of mine – we have to share the only hotel room available, underneath a clock tower in a small welsh village, nobody gets any sleep, and he falls in love with one of the ushers…brother number one is there with what appears to be a prison warder but turns out to be his girlfriend with a strange taste in clothes.
At one point after the funeral, my mother phones me, in tears. Well this is novel, carpe diem. I drive from Suffolk to Telford with the speed of light and turn up to what turns out to be brother number one’s home to comfort her. We chat about nothing in particular, until she realises the time. Brother number one will be home any moment and he ‘would be so upset to find me there’, I must leave that instant. Too late to drive back to Suffolk, I spend the night in a B & B yards away from my brother and my mother, wondering if I am the only sane one in the family.
At some point, was it after the funeral, after the inquest? Not sure. I meet up with brother number two and his then girlfriend. I can see them sitting on a sofa in Cheltenham, the same room I had met my father in. I invite them both to my home in Suffolk. He does turn up. I think it goes pretty well – but get a phone call from Mama to say it will never happen again, I have deeply traumatised poor Hamish by asking him questions. I probably did. You know, things like ‘How come you’ve never met me?’. He is apparently ‘very fragile’. I’m told he retreats to a mental health establishment somewhere in Scotland.
It is into this bizarre narrative, that my daughter fires her utterly innocent ‘Hello, I’m your granddaughter, and I’d really like to meet you all’.
Everyone checks their available children, ascertains that they are either underage or male, and wonders how Mama managed to acquire a granddaughter….Mama has to do some fancy footwork now. That’s what I meant when I said a definite ‘logistical problem’. I can but laugh as I try to imagine what must have been going through everyone’s mind. I had no idea these letters had been sent. I’m still in hormonal heaven.
The new narrative is that I disgraced the family by becoming an unmarried mother at eighteen, and she is about to play the role of fond grand-mother… Well, that works for my daughter… it leaves me back on the naughty step, wicked woman, separating her from her loving grand-mother, but I’m used to that by now – but what of my brothers?
They have both married the girlfriends by now, so we have a total of three solicitors in the family, number one has married a family law specialist – and has also become the Bishop of Durham’s legal representative in the ecclesiastical courts, sitting in judgement on vicars and other miscreants….number two has married the dowdy Gwen who is now a GP, and he has a fat corporate practice in Guildford. (I do actually attempt to beard him in his Guildford den at one point – this is getting quite ridiculous – and I can still see the ‘compassionate caring’ GP standing in her filthy kitchen with arms folded, telling me to ‘sling my hook’ before Hamish returns). Three solicitors and a GP? Have they not fingers and toes? If my offence was getting pregnant at 18, where the Hell had I been the ten years beforehand? Nope, Hamish is too fragile, and Niall behaves like the aged retainer, spectacularly so when Uncle Popsy appears to be about to breath his last. In this new found spirit of ‘we’re all one family’, I phone him up and ask him to tell our Mother that what is her brother is about to leave this mortal coil and perhaps she ought to know.
Kaboom… I have just unleashed another bouncing bomb.
It seems the preferred narrative on Uncle Popsy or brother Maurice as she would call him, is that he pegged it 40 years ago. This is hellish inconvenient. A quick phone call to the hospital establishes that I have been visiting him for the past ten years and am listed as next of kin. Both her other brothers have now died, and I appear to be the only family he has left. We have a very straightforward relationship Popsy and I. Either I am carrying a chocolate cake when I arrive, in which case I am a friend, (as would anyone else be carrying a chocolate cake) or I’m not, in which case he will ignore me. It makes a refreshing and welcome change from the rest of my relations and I spend many Christmases with him.
This is seriously awkward. She instructs number one brother to drive her from Telford all the way to Chichester. She insists the hospital list her as next of kin. She has never been seen before, not in 40 years, and will never be seen again. The hospital are more than pissed off. They are far too professional to let slip a word to me, but they are aware that actually Popsy has a few bob. It is controlled by something called the Official Solicitor who writes to them every year, inquiring whether ‘Maurice needs anything over and above that which the NHS provides him’, Of course he never does, his needs are simple, new tracksuit bottoms every so often and a supply of chocolate cake. I’ve been supplying that ever since I found him.
When he does die, a few weeks later, the only thing they can do is arrange the most lavish funeral (they are able to deduct funeral expenses before they return his things to the OS) which became the Requiem for Popsy, written in 2014. See? You have had bits of the story, never all of it. Number one brother attended for the first service, as befits a true Christian, standing in for my Mother who apparently had a migraine. He then had to rush back to the office. Pressing business. Pity, He missed all the fun. I suspect ‘fun’ isn’t’ in his lexicon, he is the most anally retentive individual I’ve ever come across.
Apologies if I sound sour and caustic, it is a survival mechanism, laughing at them from afar is how I get through life.
We have not yet reached peak Cameron-Blackie madness.
My mother has now removed herself from living on number one brother’s doorstep and having daily contact with her grandchildren there….too close to one foot in sanity is he. Why he even speaks to me on the phone occasionally! She has now removed herself to the safer environs of number two brothers home in Guildford, where he is rearing another clutch of Cameron-Blackie’s who have no idea that they have an aunt. Much more to her liking. She lives in a ‘wrinkly box’ nearby, where she entertains my daughter now and again – on one occasion writing her a letter beginning ‘let me tell you something about your mother’. I hit the roof on hearing of this, nobody was ever less equipped to tell anyone anything about me. My ire runs to some 70 pages from memory, bashed out on an old Remington, photocopied, and posted to about ten different people, all their contact details, with the request that if you want to talk about me, perhaps you would care to check facts with each other…. That didn’t go down well. She writes to me, telling me that she has forwarded her copy to the False Memory Society. It is probably still moldering in their basement somewhere.
Relations with my daughter remain difficult. Too many forces pulling both of us in different directions.
Anyway, poor woman, Mama contracts pancreatic cancer. It has a particularly nasty six month prognosis usually. Five months in, Hamish and Gwen (the GP!!) decide to take a holiday in Austria or was it Switzerland, and leave her in their house looking after their two alsatians. As you do. Fortunately for them, when she does keel over, she is in the garage and the dogs are in the house…..otherwise….hmmn. That was the first thought I had too.
Anyway, all is well, a neighbour finds her and she is taken to hospital, where she is barely conscious. Niall, number one brother is notified, and belts down the motorway from Telford to a hospital somewhere near Guildford. On route, he phones me. He is, of course upset. Not just that his mother is obviously dying (Oi, she’s my mother too, dipstick!) but that his younger brother in now uncontactable on holiday and left her in that situation. I now wear so many hats of other people’s expectations of me, that consoling him over this situation does not even feel strange. I offer to drive down and join him.
Whoa! Absolutely not. It would upset her (I thought she was unconscious?) It would upset Hamish ‘who is very fragile’ (I thought you were furious with him a minute ago? The net result is that I’m not even allowed to know what town he is heading for, nor which hospital.
Nor when she dies. It seems that Niall is not allowed to know any funeral arrangements for fear that he might tell me. Unfortunately, Hamish is still swanning through the alpine meadows. As God is my witness, on my daughters life, Niall returns to this unknown town and requests a funeral director to organise her funeral but not impart any of the details to anyone other than Hamish on his return.
You could not make it up. When I get wind of this, my life is complete – they are all utterly barking.
So somewhere there is a secret funeral – though curiously one of her requests was that her granddaughter attend, Hamish duly complied with this. Niall’s wife is baffled as to why my daughter is the only person who sobs through the service. If it had been me, they would have been tears of laughter at the sheer insanity of it all, but I cannot speak for my daughter’s emotions. I badger and plague Niall to meet me without protective chidlren covering or pressing business to avoid us having a conversation. We meet on a floating junk ship converted to a Chinky in the middle of Shrewsbury.
He confides that my mother had changed her will at least twice in the previous months, first leaving her precious pearls to my daughter, then to Gwen, then back to Niall’s wife, as she dithered between stories. His only problem with this is that she had used the senior partner in his legal practice to achieve all this, and that was a major embarrassment to him, since they were now asking questions….dearie, dearie me. It transpires that he and Hamish ‘have scattered their mother’s ashes on Romney Marsh’ the previous week-end….
Funny that. I may not have had the same relationship with her that they did. Or even my daughter did. But you know what, I was still joined to her by an umbilical cord at one point. That does mean something to me. I bear her no ill will. She did what she did when it seemed the right thing to do, the most practical and logical solution. She started again. Another family. I did share shed more than a few tears for her.
I don’t feel the same way about my brothers. They are prize plonkers. They could have made a fresh start with her death, or even my father’s death. I am their sister and nothing will ever change that. They made a choice to behave as they did. Accommodating me into their lives was just too much embarrassment, too much of a threat to their middle class lives. Hell, the Bishop of Durham is coming to dinner on Friday night – how to explain Sue? (I was told a delicious sequel by Niall. I gave his wife Juliet a recipe for some prawn thingamyjig. She served it up when Hamish and wife and their two grown sons came to dinner. ‘That’s lovely’ says Hamish, ‘where did you get the recipe’. ‘From your sister’ blurts out Juliet, three quarters of the way through the wine bottle. ‘I didn’t know you had a sister’ says Archibald Cameron-Blackie, eldest son to Hamish…(Ye Gods! Archibald?). Apparently the rest of the meal was conducted in stoney silence…..)
But there is another sequel. And I am about to serve it up now. Gather round you obsessive family researchers, you can do something useful with your miserable lives.
As for the many friends reading here, enjoy the joke. I haven’t stopped laughing in the past two weeks.
You see I have a good friend, a fellow Scouse with a black sense of humour, and a need to unwind after a hard day at the coal face over a glass of gin and tonic. She runs a bit short of people who want to hear about her day at the office, on account of her running a crematorium. I don’t mind in the slightest, I actually find it very comforting to know that she will fry me to perfection and return me to Mr G in exemplary fashion with a minimum of fuss. There will be no ‘funeral’ – did you know you have to pay an extra £700 if any ‘mourners’ turn up? I’m a Quaker, even if any fellow Quakers arrived they wouldn’t say a word, it’s how we do things. Ipso, I’m booked for a ‘direct cremation’ you can actually arrive on a fork lift truck if necessary so long as you are accompanied by a death certificate. Don’t tempt me. My usual greeting to her is ‘Pi** off, I’m not ready yet, but since you’re here, pour yourself a glass’. We understand each other perfectly. Scouse humour.
So I’m home from my first week in the N & N, can’t even make it downstairs, and she arrives for her G & T. Served at the end of my bed. Her day has encompassed having to arrange for an exhumation. Complicated process. Involves endless paperwork and the Diocese. Not a body, but ashes. Why? Well it seems that someone has mucked up some paperwork. When you have someone cremated, it is pretty much the same legally as burying a body. You have a duty towards it – and any of its relatives. You have to notify them, or give sound reason why not. You have to sign to say that is the truth.
I am sitting up in bed now, all ears. Just run that one by me again, I say.
It seems that one or other of my brothers would have had to sign an earlier version of question 2 of part 3 of this form. This is the 2009 version. Mama died around 2002 I think. If you lie on that form it is a ‘serious’ offence. Granted a puny, paltry, meaningless little offence – but that makes it all the more delicious. Apparently, you need the landowner’s permission to scatter ashes anywhere – do hope you lads have got yourself covered on that one too.
I spend the next two days in bed, staring at the ceiling, savouring the delicious prospect of seeing the Bishop of Litchfield’s Ecclesiastical Representative and Guildford’s ‘I’m-too-fragile-for-my-shirt’ sorter outer of other peoples lives had up for body snatching…..too funny. ‘Cos I am as near dammit certain they haven’t told the truth on that form.
But then I’m back in hospital – and I think to myself, if time is really that short, do I want to waste it on those plonkers, any of them – for of course, in case you haven’t noticed, I have now neatly turned into my own Mother….my daughter doesn’t know where I am, nor will there be a funeral for her to attend. Sorry kiddo – but we had 20 years to sort it out, and now my time is for Mr G and no one else. Sad isn’t it? Yes, I’m a bitch. Yes, I’m tired of turning the other cheek. I’m tired of being the adult. I’m making room for my own pain before I run out of time. Sadly, I know she reads here, she knows of this blog, and everytime she checks my timeline on Linked-in, they send me an e-mail. It’s a curious feeling, among the literally thousands of people who have read these posts, 3,649 yesterday, not up to my old readership, but still an awful lot of people. Some friends, some foe, some family.
So if any of you obsessive ‘searchers for the truth’ wish to track down that document – if I’m right and they’ve lied – have it on me. ‘The Bishop’s Body Snatching Registrar’. Gladys Blackie was her real name. I’ve never even seen her death certificate – it quite possibly calls her ‘Jo’ Blackie. Whoops, Jo Cameron-Blackie. Forgot she went all up market after my Father died. Blackie was quite good enough for him.
Go’orn. Do something useful with your lives.
To the rest of you, and the many who have e-mailed me overnight, who don’t wish to be seen to comment – thank you, not one single nasty e-mail. Some smashing emails from people who have read these posts and it has struck a chord for one reason or another. Thankyou.
Especially the one from the US which suggested that had I run for President, they would have voted for me. Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for jogging my memory. This next bit is just for my friends. Something to make you laugh.
Something rang a bell in my head that long pre-dated the Anna Raccoon blog….a pub quizz years ago. Hadn’t there once been a Ms Raccoon in the White House?
Google is my friend. Indeed there had been. Her name was Rebecca. What do you think I learnt about her?
She enjoyed nothing better than being placed in a bathtub with a little water in it and given a cake of soap with which to play. In this fashion she would amuse herself for an hour or more.
Dear God – it must run in the Raccoon genes!!!! This constant laughter has to stop. Most unseemly at this time of my life..
Usual rules – no proof reading. Going back to bed. Might be back tomorrow, let’s talk about Trump? Sick to death of family.
Edited to add: Humble apologies – I hadn’t meant to leave comments closed. You are welcome to have your say.