Monday 21 September 2009

Friday night didn't go quite according to plan

it started off well - I got home from work and went out for a speedy 3 mile run. I felt fantabulous, really full of energy and hardly taxed at all - despite the fact that half the route was up-hill. I guess that losing over a stone in weight is going to do that for you right? I mean, previously it was like the equivalent of me running with a huge heavy backpack on - doesn't make for fast or easy times!

So, I sat down at my PC with the intention of writing a frank and honest account of my eating issues over the last 18 years.

What actually happened was that I got a little carried away with the rather tasty red wine while waiting for Joe to get his arse back home from the Empire Casino, resulting in the intoxication of me, by quite a large margin!

I started to write my piece, but it's a really difficult subject to talk about and I didn't get very far to be honest and it didn't exactly 'flow' unlike the red wine!

One productive thing that came out was that I *finally* wrote to my Uncle in South Africa - something that I've been avoiding doing for a long time.

You see, I found out earlier this year that after spending many years searching for my biological father, that he had in fact died back in 2005. Although I had always suspected that that might have been the case - I used to joke all the time that he'd "probably drunk himself to death" - to have it confirmed was quite a bitter pill to swallow and affected me more than I thought it would.

I have no memory of my real dad. He was raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in Africa and came over to England in the late 70's and met my Mother. I was born in 1979, and, although they weren't married, I was given my father's surname: Shankland.

My Mum doesn't talk much of her memories of Kevin as it was a horrible time for her. From the sounds of things he'd been psychologically disturbed by the part he played in the civil war during which he told her that, aside from killing soldiers he had also killed women and children. Having recently watched Blood Diamond, I can see how that might be the case.

My mother tells me that Kevin was a violent and twisted alcoholic with a sadistic side - nice father material eh? Apparently he wasn't always like that though, he just deteriorated over the few years he and my Mum were together. I have a picture of him from 1978, he was a good looking man, though apparently by the time they'd split properly - i.e. my Mum had had a restraining order taken out against him and changed our surnames by deed poll, oh and moved because he left her in so much debt we had to move to a smaller place - he was hugely overweight from all the alcohol and associated bad eating.

All that aside I wanted to find out for myself what had happened to him. I didn't have the happiest of childhoods to say the least, and I never really felt wanted. I am an only child (my Mum has never been particularly maternal and my stepfather didn't want any children) my Mum has no siblings and my stepfather's only sister lives in Canada, as does my maternal granddad.

Having no brothers or sisters, aunties, uncles etc can make you feel like your world is quite small. I always hoped that Kevin had got his act together and sorted himself out, found somebody who made him happy, gave up alcohol, had more children and that I might have half brothers and sisters somewhere, and that I'd meet them and finally really feel part of a family.

I found out this year, through managing to contact Kevin's brother (I didn't even know he had a brother! My Mum says that she doesn't remember him much, just that he came over to the UK once or twice and would irritate her by speaking Afrikaans with Kevin, which she didn't understand!), that Kevin died in January 2005. He'd been living in Dublin for a while after he and my Mum split up, then he moved to Newcastle. He was living in Newcastle while I was with my last boyfriend, who was actually from there! I had visited the city that he was living in and I never knew it :-(

My Uncle says that Kevin joined him in late 2004 in Johannesburg where he lives with his partner. I have a picture of him while he was there, he was huge, he looked so unhealthy and older than his 50 odd years.

He died in his sleep of a heart attack, he was only in his early 50's but had already had a hip replacement and heart bypass surgery. He died penniless. While alive he lived off the state, on benefits paid for by my taxes. He NEVER sorted himself out, he never got it together, he DID drink himself to death, as I'd always joked he might have done.

What a waste. It makes me so angry to think that I managed to sort myself out. I didn't finish school, I moved out of my parents' place when I was 15 and had a child at 16 years old! But I got it together, I went back to college, I got myself qualified and got out there into the working world instead of sitting at home scrounging off the state like so many of the women in the mother and baby hostel I lived in did - and still do!!

I'm so disappointed that he threw his life away, that he never got help for himself. I have a friend whose father went the same way, but he still lived in the family home, she says I shouldn't think that I could have done anything to change how his life turned out but I can't help but think that if only I'd found him sooner, that he'd known that I was interested in knowing him, in helping him and that he had an amazing grandson, that maybe things might have turned out differently.

I don't know, I'm still dealing with this I guess. It's just hard to take how final death is and that I'll never get to ask him all the questions that I wanted to.

In any case, I wrote back to my Uncle who was kind enough to send me those pictures of Kevin. I sent him the pic I had of him from 1978. I would like to go and visit him in Johannesburg at some point in the future, it sounds like he sorted his life out - after doing security work in Iraq he is now setting up a company that makes safety nets for swimmers - presumably to keep away sharks? I'd love to go to SA, I've always been fascinated by the South African accent, for some reason I really like it, maybe I *do* remember him... just a little.



  1. Waste is not the word, that is absoutely tragic. Unfortunately some people are just not strong enough to ask for help to deal with their demons.

    Hopefully you will be able to meet your uncle at some stage.

  2. I hope you can use his example as what NOT to do with your life.

    It's great that you're reconnected with the uncle tho.