Stuart Macbeth on the traumatic search for his birth mum
They give you a piece of paper when you’re adopted. Mine was kept in a suspicious brown envelope. Compressed on to this flimsy A4 sheet was everything I could possibly want to know about my birth parents — their first names, their vital statistics and their hobbies.
I spent years revisiting these three short paragraphs. Would I recognise them in a crowd? Would we have liked each other? What did they look like?
These are poignant questions when you’re six foot tall and black haired and your adoptive parents are five foot tall and blond. By the age of 10 it had become obvious that the stork dropped me outside the wrong front door.
When my school friend Nick asked me why I hadn’t made the effort to track down my birth parents I had a simple explanation.
“It’s going to cost me a fiver, and I just don’t have that kind of money.”
I’ve always been grateful to the people who brought me up and put a roof over my head. When you’re adopted blood ties don’t have the same relevance. I just didn’t feel the need to go on a wild goose chase.
My ex-wife did, however.
She become fanatical, spending months digging through microfiche at the country records library, ordering certificates of birth and marriage. Eventually — with some wizardry — she tracked my maternal grandmother down. And through her she managed to wrestle out my mother’s email address.
The initial conversation didn’t go well.
My mother wasn’t interested. I was an embarrassing reminder of a past left behind.
She’d moved to Australia shortly after I was adopted. She had begun a new life with a new family. This should have been the end of the conversation.
However, when my grandmother died a couple of months later, my ex-wife saw the funeral notice in the paper, and decided to step things up a gear.
Her next message was brutal — if you don’t acknowledge your son’s existence I will come to your mother’s funeral, and expose you in front of your family.
Posed with this threat my birth mother contacted the police. It was only when this didn’t work that she made contact with me. It was my first contact with my mother since I was three weeks old.
We had a brief exchange through which I apologised profusely, and when she flew to England for the funeral we arranged to meet.
I could have chosen any venue for the meeting but I knew I’d need a stiff drink. I chose the Rose and Crown on North Parade. It was Monday, January 14, 2008.
Through the next few hours (and three bottles of Chablis) I discovered that most of the facts on my A4 sheet of paper were untrue.
My grandparents weren’t the tweedy churchgoers I had once imagined. They were, in fact, wardens on a nudist colony. My grandfather painted, like me. They were both musical, like me. Like my own adoptive parents they lived in a caravan. This seems to have been one of the ways in which the adoption agency had matched us up.
That night I also discovered I have two younger brothers. Both of them work as doctors in Sydney hospitals. My younger brother also played guitar and once had a record deal with EMI. I discovered many little things, hereditary illnesses, my mother’s fondness for menthol cigarettes.
One thing I didn’t discover were any details about my father. My mother didn’t even know his name — she had been raped while studying at Central St Martin’s College of Art. She had been too young to realise that she was pregnant until it was too late to do anything about it.
When we said goodbye on Banbury Road I was presented with a still-life my grandfather had painted around the time I was born, wrapped in a black bin liner.
I keep it on my wall as a memento of a misspent childhood.
Stuart Macbeth is bandleader of The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band. The band are next in action at Bestival on the Isle of Wight, which runs from today until Sunday.