Thursday, 23 September 2010
We don't meet up that often: about 3 or 4 times a year but have been doing so for about 10 years. Four of us were in the same amateur drama group in the late 1980's and we've somehow managed to keep in touch despite all the changes that have taken place in our lives.
Last night we met in the Piano and Pitcher in Bishopsgate, opposite Liverpool Street station. It wasn't so much a pub as a huge trading floor, where hundred of city traders spend down time knocking back expensive wines and beers.
Al, one of the group, had brought along his half sister . Someone he didn't know existed two years ago. His mother and father had split when he was very young and Al had thought or was told that his father had gone overseas. In fact, he'd stayed in London, remarried and had another family.
Although Al had no knowledge of this other side of his family, they knew of his existence. One evening, logging onto Facebook there was a message from a young woman asking if he was related to her grandfather. He replied he was and the next thing he knew the girl's mother phoned him up and introduced herself as his step sister. She was one of five.
Al has spent the last couple of years discovering his other family. The irony was that his job regularly took him to North Woolwich and he visited a friend near there. Little did he know that 10 minutes' walk away was living his father and family. Unfortunately, Al's father died before he had had an opportunity to meet him.
Looking at Al's youngest half sister the family likeness was striking: she was so much like Alan's daughter who's about the same age. For Al it's been like all his Christmases happening at once. Learning about his father and exchanging family histories and photographs is a real joy. It's also brought some pain. Learning that what he'd been told by his mother wasn't true and, therefore, losing the opportunity to connect with his father many years earlier.
I knew how Al felt. My mother had a severe stroke while on holiday in Benidorm. I knew that my father, who had separated from my mother 25 or more years earlier, lived in Spain. I managed to find out his address and phone number and spoke to him. He was living in Javea which was a few miles from Benidorm and the hospital in Alicante to which my mother was later transferred. I had just returned from Spain, leaving mum, I thought, well on the way to recovery and I suggested that my dad visit her. Unfortunately before he was able to my mother died.
A few month's later my father visited us, along with his Spanish wife and my (youngest) half brother. I never knew he existed, nor the other half brother who was living in England and a half sister in Spain.
That was 29 years ago. Since then my father and half brother attended my second wedding, we've stayed with half brother and sister's families in Norwich and France. I've attended one of my half brothers' marriage, reconnected with my father's brothers and sister and their families: attending his sister's 50th wedding anniversary - I was at her wedding in 1959 - in my new school blazer and shorts! I also visited dad in Spain, the last time a few months before he died when my youngest half brother and I flew out to see him after learning from one of his neighbours that he wasn't well.
I first met my half sister in 1984. She was in London for an operation at University College hospital and we met up during my lunch break. I can't remember what we talked about. I was so staggered to discover this beautiful, slim, blond 24 year old that when I went back to work I spent the rest of the day phoning people up telling them of my great find - a new beautiful sister!!
So I can understand how Al feels. Unfortunately his half sister couldn't join us for the curry. We said our farewell and went on our way searching out the true taste of the East......End.