Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Orphanhood

My parents are dead and I have had no relationship with my siblings for many years. I’m a midlife orphan. Can one be an orphan and be grown up? In a sense, I was always orphaned. My mother divorced my father when I was five and that was the end of that, supposedly. We were taken on holiday and told that we were to live in Rhodesia and not Spain now. Daddy, like the rain on the plain, was mainly to live in Spain. He was not coming back. But like a spectre, I summoned him over and over again, through questions, through the way I looked, and for being ‘difficult’ or ‘looking just like my father’ or for ‘being mad’ as we were told he was.

As far as my mother was concerned it was over but really it was just the beginning of a quest for me. I craved my father like a person on rations craves butter. I recalled every last sight and smell of him; I clung to the letters when they arrived from Portugal. Apparently an uncle offered to adopt one of us. Which uncle? Which one – of us? Bereft, I longed to be adopted back into my Portuguese father’s family, but my mother cut all ties and tried to strangle me with the sinewy umbilical cord that just would not die. It was and is, attached to me, though now, it is silvery, diaphanous: it divides the living from the dead.

My mother remarried and had us adopted into a family I had no truck with. The older, singing, dancing, performing for applause sibling was delighted with the substitute. The younger sibling floated above it all and bobbed along with it, though he ‘ran away’ in various ways, teddy, then whisky and Mary-Jane in tow. My running away was more literal. When they changed my name, I raged and chanted my Portuguese name under the covers like a mantra. Submission never came; silently, deliberately I maintained my difference. Even my blood was negative: literally, as well as it being partly his (they are all O’s, as in okay, let’s just go along with this new story). They tried everything. Berating me, beating me, ignoring me, excluding me and finally banishing me to the wilderness – boarding school at fourteen from which I never really returned. It severed any further kinship with them and brought new attachments: friends that became family; wild boyfriends who had more than a whiff of my father about them.

I found him when I was twenty-one, with the help of a fellow gypsy traveller. I turned up in our family village clutching a black and white photograph, our common language having been ruptured. We wept for three days and then I left. Numb with the shock of it all, I did nothing for eight years. Then I returned with another fellow gypsy and a son who carried my father’s charisma and dark good looks. I returned a third time and then a fourth with my own husband and son, on the fifth time I returned in response to a call from his brother. It was the first time and the last time I was to be summoned by my blood family. He was dead and I and two other children were required to pay for his funeral. There was macabre laughter at the funeral but tragedy resonated from the northern Portuguese mountains where he was lowered into the family plot and it resonated all the way back to Zimbabwe, to South Africa and then back to Europe via the UK.


Orphanhood means many things for me. Above all, it means freedom and a new life; a spiritual burying of the past. It means keeping the narratives that are positive and trying to discard the painful ones: a delicate process. There has been much pain and betrayal; abuse even. But much has been learned. There are dark secrets on both sides of my former families, but richness too. It is true that the ones that love you most have the power to hurt you most. From my perspective, the choices my parents made impacted in a vicious way, but also made me strong, even though I was the sensitive one. It is my choice to cut any other blood supply that has browned and to keep the rich dark blood that travels back further through the pathways of my genes to the ones who came before and who enriched me and the ones who gather round me in this house: the ones that I have fed with my blood: the ones that I will cleave to, and the many who do not share a common blood.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Six Months Later

It has been six months since I wrote a blog following my mother’s death late last year. I have been too busy letting go of Stuff, ‘stuff’ needing a capital ‘s’ and possibly a Mister or a Field Marshall affixed to it given the way it has tried to take charge of my life. I am coming out of six months of some of my darkest days of (the twisted roots of all of this lie in my childhood) but at the same time I am tasting the freedom of being permanently divorced (rather than having periods of separation) from several people whose affect on me has been so debilitating that for long periods of time, were it not for therapy and prayer, I would not have been able to function at all. My only connection to them and their cohorts was through my mother.

The last year and a half of having to be in touch with these people during and after my mother’s illness and death, reads like an Agatha Christie novel – sorry Aggie – complete with plotting over my uncle’s inheritance that my mother received soon before she died, carefully orchestrated lies, threats, verbal and emotional abuse, legal action, inheritance stealing and public family scraps from the baser family elements, that would leave Jeremy Kyle agog. Fact is often fiction and fiction is often fact and sometimes there is a muddling of both – just ask the ‘other’ side. You’d need to be Poirot to figure out who was lying and who was not. Or have someone hand over the text, email and Facebook evidence. One of many lessons I have learnt: Do not ever read a will without a drink stiffer than your grandmother’s hair do in 63.’ Brutal. Also: The love of money (and a large Georgian property in Cheltenham), is the root of all evil.

Anyway, to borrow from Priestly, the past really is another country now. I have emigrated. From the dark country of my childhood that I initially tried to escape when I left Africa alone at age 17, and which I continually had to revisit in order to try and come to terms with my beautiful, enigmatic mother whom I loved despite all, and now too, from England to Wales. Yes, I am now permanently in Wales. Giving up the flat that Luca and me were given when I was a homeless mum with a baby has been very tough – almost 20 years there and 30 in London. London was the breaking as well as the making of me; I shall always love it, though I no longer believe its streets are paved with gold. It was something of a messy break up, but Wales is now my land of promise.

Between the last time I blogged I managed to finish ghostwriting a book before the ghost of my past tapped me on the shoulder to announce that I had been cut out of my mother’s will and my and my children’s share of my great-grandmother’s inheritance has now gone out of my mother’s family. In the words of two of the three who oversaw the many months of scheming: “There is nothing you can do about it.” As my solicitor put it, I would likely win in court, but I would need tens of thousands of pounds to contest the crooked thing. But thank God I had been kept in the dark (What’s new Pussycat? Woe…) or the book would never have been finished. Another, has been edited for a client and delivered last week, and still another put through the first stage of editing. 

Why I am still reeling from my mother’s latest betrayal is beyond me, but a battered heart still beats. I believed her when, after having anticipated it all given the actions of several of the key players the Christmas before, I wrote to her and she promised she would never do such a thing. It does complicate the grief somewhat, but my relationship with my mother, though I loved her dearly, was always complicated, mostly by a choice she made in the mid-seventies that on occasions, almost completely blighted my life – she was her most brilliant, gifted, free-spirited, beautiful self before then. I too, am now free, but it is not a freedom I would have chosen.

On another note and in the letter and key of ‘H’ for happy, and in haste, home schooling the kids has continued to be a joy and seeing them develop in all their creative and sparky ways continues to be a river of happiness. On the subject of education, I have been able, through a dedicated and brilliant woman, Yolande Richards, who set up assistance for Mutake School in Zimbabwe, begun supporting the school through my book, After the Rains and through sponsorship. I am thrilled about the Barroso Bursaryhttps://www.facebook.com/MutakeSchool/photos/a.1440709992855273.1073741828.1409631029296503/1883520055240929/?type=3&theater

I also have a new part time job, developing arts projects for children with a local Anglican church, (Church in Wales as it is known in Wales) and there are new events and a festival coming up. My eldest continues to produce stunning artwork and music in London and my dear husband is now a town councillor, but no longer working part time for a local politician so that our publishing company can be given a much needed boost. Ring the changes and put bells on them, change is good, but oh, it can be uncomfortable, even painful.


But oh, it’s good to be writing again. Writing has always been therapy for me. Welcome back, writing with a capital ‘W’ for well, and wonderful, and well, most good things. Tomorrow I will be writing my third book. It’s been almost five years of working on other (wonderful) books since my last one. It is time. Good to be back.