Family Net Culture Technology Television

Is the pace of change really such a shock?

I’ve got Matt Biddulph staying with me and been hanging out with Paul Hammond a lot recently again and since they’re both ex-BBC colleagues, we’ve inevitably found ourselves talking a bit about what’s going on at the organisation at the moment. And it’s a busy time for them – Ashley Highfield and Mark Thompson have made a couple of interesting announcements that contain a fair amount of value nicely leavened with some typical organisational lunacy and clumsiness. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is this, which is a link that I’ve already posted to my feed earlier in the day and will turn up later on this site as part of my daily link dump. For those who don’t want to click on the link, here’s the picture:

Now this is a photo taken in the public reception area of BBC Television Centre, but I want to make it really clear from the outset that you shouldn’t be taking it literally or seriously – it’s a prop, a think piece, to help people in the organisation start think about the issues that are confronting them and start to come to terms with it. It has, however, stuck in my head all day. And here’s why…

The apparent shock revelation of the statement – the reason it’s supposed to get people nervous – is because it intimates that one day a new distribution mechanism might replace broadcast media. And while you’re reeling because of that insane revelation and the incredible insight that it contains, let me supplement it with a nice dose of truism from Mark Thompson:

“There are two reasons why we need a new creative strategy. Audiences are changing. And technology is changing. In a way, everyone knows this of course. What’s surprising – shocking even – is the sheer pace of that change. In both cases it’s faster and more radical than anything we’ve seen before.”

So here’s the argument – that perhaps broadcast won’t last forever and that technology is changing faster than ever before. So fast, apparently, that it’s almost dazzlingly confusing for people.

I’m afraid I think this is certifiable bullshit. There’s nothing rapid about this transition at all. It’s been happening in the background for fifteen years. So let me rephrase it in ways that I understand. Shock revelation! A new set of technologies has started to displace older technologies and will continue to do so at a fairly slow rate over the next ten to thirty years!

I’m completely bored of this rhetoric of endless insane change at a ludicrous rate, and cannot actually believe that people are taking it seriously. We’ve had iPods and digital media players for what – five years now? We’ve had Tivo for a similar amount of time, computers that can play DVDs for longer, music and video held in digital form since the eighties, an internet that members of the public have been building and creating upon for almost fifteen years. TV only got colour forty odd years ago, but somehow we’re expected to think that it’s built up a tradition and way of operating that’s unable to deal with technological shifts that happen over decades!? This is too fast for TV!? That’s ridiculous! This isn’t traditional media versus a rebellious newcomer, this is a fairly reasonable and incremental technology change that anyone involved in it could have seen coming from miles away. And it’s not even like anyone expects television or radio to change enormously radically over the next couple of decades! I mean, we’re swtiching to digital broadcasting in the UK in a few years, which gives people a few more channels. Radio’s not going to be fully digital for decades. Broadcast is still going to be a dominant form of content distribution in ten and maybe twenty years time, it just won’t be the only one. And five years from now there will clearly be more bottom-up media, just as there are more weblogs now than five years ago, but I’d be surprised if it had really eradicated any major media outlets. These changes are happening, they’re definitely happening, but they’re happening at a reasonable, comprehendible pace. There are opportunities, of course, and you have to be fast to be the first mover, but you don’t die if you’re not the first mover – you only die if you don’t adapt.

My sense of these media organisations that use this argument of incredibly rapid technology change is that they’re screaming that they’re being pursued by a snail and yet they cannot get away! ‘The snail! The snail!’, they cry. ‘How can we possibly escape!?. The problem being that the snail’s been moving closer for the last twenty years one way or another and they just weren’t paying attention. Because if we’re honest, if you don’t want or need to be first and you don’t need to own the platform, it can’t be hard to see roughly where this environment is going. Media will be, must be, transportable in bits and delivered to TV screens and various other players. And there will be enormous archives available that need to be explorable and searchable. And people will create content online and distribute it between themselves and find new ways to express themselves. Changes in the mechanics of those distributions and explorations will happen all the time, but really the major shift is not such a surprise, surely? I mean, how can it be!? Most of it has been happening in an unevenly distributed way for years anyway. And it’s not like it’s enormously hard to see what you’ve got to do to prepare for this – find a way to digitise the content, get as much information as possible about the content, work out how to throw it around the world, look for business models and watch the bubble-up communities for ideas. That’s it. Come on, guys! There’s hard work to be done, but it’s not in observing the trends or trying to work out what to do, it’s in just getting on with the work of sorting out rights and data and digitisation and keeping in touch with ideas from the ground. This should be the minimum a media organisation should do, not some terrifying new world of fear!

I think this is the most important thing that these organisations need to recognise now – not that change is dramatic and scary and that they have to suddenly pull themselves together to confront a new threat, but that they’ve been simply ignoring the world around them for decades. We don’t need people standing up and panicking and shouting the bloody obvious. We need people to watch the industries that could have an impact upon them, take them seriously, don’t freak out and observe what’s moving in their direction and then just do the basic work to be ready for it. The only way that snails catch you up is if you’re too self-absorbed to see them coming.


The first contact with my father in 28 years…

Deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Where to start? Um. Probably I should start with the standard preamble. The story so far. Right. It’s pretty much all contained within the Family category of this site, but for those of you who just wandered in off the street, I’ve been trying to find my biological father who I haven’t seen since I was about five. A few months ago I decided to use a service called Traceline to see if he was still alive and to try and make some form of contact. To be honest, I’d come to the conclusion that he was probably dead. A couple of months ago they said they’d found him, I sent a letter for them to pass on (if he’d take it) and since then I’ve been waiting.

And then two weeks ago I got a reply. I noticed the letter on my doormat when I got up for work in the morning, but I had too much to do and so I only let it register a little in my brain before leaving it unopened on the floor. I didn’t hurry back from work, either. I can only assume I was scared. When I got home though, I opened it immediately and read it in two long gulps. My eyes caught on a few sentences of peculiar grump that reminded me all too much of myself and my clumsy mechanically articulated use of language. And then I read it again. My first contact in twenty-eight years with my father. Crap. Fuck. Wow. I felt… excited, I guess – like I was on a ride. Not really happy as such. But for a moment, everything else fell out of my head.

So this is the bit, I think where things get a little harder to write about. While my father was a creature only conjured by my mind, it seemed completely reasonable to write about my speculations. But it gets more difficult to write about a real person. And having a two page, handwritten, artifact in my hand makes him more real than I think I was expecting. And I feel more territorial about the contents of the letter than I’d expected either. I want to tell everyone about it, but I don’t want to drag the whole experience down into the mud and the murk by luridly exposing every aspect of it to any random punter who happens to troll around my site. So I’m not going to go into detail about what the letter says (just like I didn’t go into any detail about the letter I sent to him).

But I will say a few things about my sense of it as a reply and how I’m reacting to it. He sounds slightly shaken up and confused by receiving the letter, much as I have been by receiving a reply – hoped for but maybe not expected. But generally, although it feels slightly distant, I think it’s pretty much the best letter I could have expected. And I’m enormously glad that I got the gay thing out of the way immediately. Now there aren’t any nasty surprises further down that particular road, I feel that we can get on with whatever happens next. He was honest enough to state that the whole thing was a bit confusing and disorienting, but he also seemed prepared to suspend judgement. That’s a good foundation, I suppose.

I guess the main problem from my perspective is that I have absolutely no idea what to do next. I thought writing this post might help me get some perspective, but I’ve been sitting on the letter for two weeks now and trying to work out how to reply and nothing is coming to me. And as every day passes, I have a sense of him thinking about whether he said something wrong or alienated me or whatever. I suppose after talking into the ether up until this point, this has been the first moment where I’ve had to think about it as a conversation, and it’s scaring the hell out of me.

Anyway, I’d just like to thank everyone who has written to me or posted comments over the last few months sending their support. I genuinely don’t think I’d have had the nerve to continue with this process without the support of my peers out there in the wild. I’ll continue to post up general updates about my state of mind and this whole process until such a point where it feels too personal or invasive, because I’ve heard from people that it’s helping them work out whether they should try and find lost parents themselves. All I can say is that so far the experience has been unsettling and destabilising, but an important one for me, and I’m incredibly glad I’ve got as far as I have. And good luck to those of you still contemplating something similar. I hope it all works out for you.


In which it all starts to become real…

On May 17th this year, I took a very small step towards trying to find my biological father who I haven’t seen since I was about five, twenty-eight years ago. I rang up Traceline and the Salvation Army and started a process that is still going on today. On May 18th I filled in a form and sent it to Traceline. I didn’t hear anything for over a month and then it wasn’t solid or certain – Traceline thought they’d found him but weren’t sure. On June 27th I received a letter confirming that they were pretty solid, but it took me until July 30th to write my letter in response.

If you want to contact your lost relatives through Traceline, then they have to be sure first that your relatives want to be contacted. So they take your letter and they sit on it. And they send a letter to the relative concerned. And if the relative wants it, then they let Traceline know. If after three months, they haven’t heard anything, then they send you your letter back. I sent my letter six weeks ago. I’d pretty much given up on the Traceline experience.

And then I got a letter – a very very short letter. And not from my father, from Traceline. And it’s not the most exciting letter in the world. But it has meaning. It has resonance. And it bloody matters to me. It reads:

Traceline has been successful in contacting the above-named and your letter has now been forwarded.

If this means nothing else, it means that something I’ve said, some words I’ve written are now in the hands of my father. He knows where I am. He knows what I want and what I’m doing. He knows I have a younger brother. And he also knows – for good or ill – that I’m gay. You probably understand how great that feels – how much more real it makes the idea of having a father. But apart from the feeling of connection that I’m experiencing, there’s other less honourable stuff going on I think. I cannot tell you how good it feels – now that I’ve done all that I can do – for it now to be his responsibility to decide how to proceed. It’s now his turn to take this further, his fear to deal with, his responsibility to take up or fail. For a while, at least, I can do nothing more.

All in all though, it’s a step forward – another step forward in one of the longest and scariest personal projects I’ve ever engaged in. And now, I suppose, the worst that can happen is that I get the measure of the man – one way or the other. And the best is that maybe this is one more step towards having an opportunity to finally meet.


"My name is Tom and I might be your son"

A little over a month ago I got a letter from Traceline saying that they thought they’d found my father. At the time I was in San Francisco attending a one-day workshop presented by Cal about Flickr and running around like a mad thing between conferences, parties and lots of neat companies . I managed to bury the whole family drama in the back of my mind at the time. I had too much else to do.

Unfortunately, the pace hasn’t let up one bit since I got back to the UK. I’ve spent much of my time writing up my Supernova notes, working on strategic stuff at the BBC and launching the Listen Live widget. And around me the world has gone nuts – first London won the Olympic bid, then we all stood firm against terrorists, bore silent tribute to the victims of the first attacks and then – before the dust had cleared – found ourselves in the middle of another bout of terrorism. My brother came for the weekend, Open Tech happened all over the place, Matt Biddulph announced he was leaving the BBC and Odeo launched. And there was Live8, of course. And I turned 33

All in all, it’s been a bloody hard and tiring month, and the backlog of important things that I really want to do has got larger and larger. And at the top of that pile has been the most nerve-wracking project of all – finding my father – and the next step in that project: writing a letter to him to try and persuade him to re-establish contact after nearly thirty years.

Throughout the rest of this process with Traceline, I’ve been publishing regular updates to the web for everyone to read. By putting it all in public I’ve been able to keep some of the emotional aspects of the whole enterprise at arms length and to look at it slightly more dispassionately. It’s also somehow given me the nerve to continue – feeling that other people are somehow rooting for me and deriving value from this experience (one way or another) has been, I think, profoundly helpful.

But writing this letter has been harder than I expected. It’s taken me all morning, wrangling with words, trying to get something assembled that is open and honest without being too scary or intimidating. I’ve been trying to find the right set of words that suggests how easy the next stage should be, while recognising how profoundly impactful it might seem. I’ve tried to communicate how deeply I feel the need to keep going, to find my father, without making him feel that need directly as a burden.

It’s been a bloody hard few hours and the result is an unusually bald piece of writing for me. It’s not got much of my normal ornamental style, it’s almost completely lacking in curlicues. Too keep it real, I’ve had to strip all that stuff away, get rid of the posing and camoflage and just say what’s going on in my head. As a result, I think it would be too difficult for me to the letter out in public. So I’m not going to. I’ve reread it a number of times, I’ve sent it to some close friends for their comments and thoughts. And now I’m going to sit on it for a couple of days. If it still feels right on Monday morning, then it’s in the post. And then God only knows what happens next…


The letter from Traceline…

I’m back in London and after several hours of pottering around, I finally get the nerve to open the letter on my doorstep. I already knew the content of the letter, but nonetheless I’ve been circling it since lunch-time. Most important notes: they’re not sure this guy is my father, and I may have to wait months before I get any more information. On the other hand, assuming the guy is my father, that means he’s findable. One way or another, he’s findable and he’s out there. At which point, screw his personal preferences, I guess I move to a different kind of searching. I’m not going to give up at this stage…

Dear Mr Coates,

In response to your recent application, details have been traced which would appear to relate to the above-named person and we are prepared to write to him asking for permission to forward a letter from yourself.

Would you please now submit an open letter, together with a further non-refundable remittance of £25.00. Cheques should be made payable to ONS (please quote the reference number above with all correspondence). Please note, sealed letters will be opened for inspection.

Please do not include photographs or any personal items.

Given permission to do so, your letter will be passed on.

If however a negative response is received or, if at the end of three months there has been no response, your letter will be returned to you.

Yours sincerely, etc.


Three phone calls that form a loop…

So I’m standing in the bar after Cal’s awesome event yesterday and my phone tells me that I have a voice mail. I find somewhere relatively quiet and try and listen to it – it’s the people from Traceline ringing me up. They’ve left one of those utterly aggravating messages that sounds kind of urgent and alarming and downbeat but don’t tell you anything so you’re left to suspect the worse. Something like, “{Sigh} Mr Coates, I’m ringing from Traceline. {Sigh / Sympathetic noise} I’m ringing regarding your attempt to find your father. {Serious face inferred, maybe eyebrow action of some kind, perhaps a solitary tear} If you could ring me back I’ll go into lurid details about how your absent father that you’ve not seen since you were four has been ground up by some kind of articulated sausagemeat machine after slipping on a patch of lard literally ten seconds after hearing you were looking for him.” The whole last section is what’s going on in my head, anyway. Then they leave a phone number in the UK at an insane staccato rhythm and hang up. Five attempts to get the number written down later, it decides to delete itself.

This kind of throws me for a loop. Is he dead? Are they ringing up to tell me that he’s dead? Why else would they be so apparently evasive and sympathetic on the phone. I think about the time difference – they’re now asleep and won’t be awake until I’m asleep. I go out for Mexican food and try and put it out of my mind. They make Guacamole at the table. I have a Margarita-fueled microfight with a guy from Technorati about Microformats.

We wind the reel on and suddenly it’s 4am PST and I’m asleep on Leslie‘s sofa and my mobile rings – it’s the lady from Traceline. She’s not at all apocalyptic now – evidently she had been a bit tired in the earlier phone call. Poor love. I become increasingly clear that Traceline should fire people who get moody when they’ve not had enough biscuits rather than let them take it out on the people to whom they’re delivering news about lost/dead relatives. But that’s another story. In the meantime, she has news and it’s … irritating. They’ve found someone who matches the sparse data that I was able to provide them with – they don’t know his middle name, but he has the initial ‘J’ – and they’re keen to get more information so that they can better assess if this is the right guy or not. Specifically they want to know his mother’s maiden name. Unfortunately, I have no more information at all that I can provide. They agree to send me some details of the person they’ve found. I put down the phone. It’s 4.05am.

New reactions – is this the right guy? What if it’s not the right guy? Is this crap ever going to end? Why can’t it be easy? Should I ring my mother and see if she knows his mother’s maiden name after all? How the hell do I write a letter to someone who might be my father? This whole enterprise sucks – the whole point was that it would be the right guy and that if he was alive I could write to him and say what I needed to say and then even if he didn’t reply at least I’d know he’d read it. At least I’d know he was alive. This whole vague bullshit – “Dear Mr Coates, I think you might be my birth father. Course you might not. Are you? Um. Love, your son? I think?” – what the crap is that about… That’s no good at all.

4.15am, I decide to ring my mother. My little brother answers. I miss my little brother. I don’t think he knows I’m doing any of this. No one in my family reads my weblog, anyway. My mother appears to be out, so I leave a sleepy message with him that doesn’t mention any of the parental stuff.

And what I realise afterwards is that all in fact it did say was that it was 4am, I’m in the States, I sound a bit sad and I didn’t leave a message. What I have done, in fact, is leave one of those utterly aggravating messages that sounds kind of urgent and alarming and downbeat but don’t tell you anything so you’re left to suspect the worse. I now imagine my mother getting home and sitting nervously by the phone trying to work out if I’ve been ground up by some kind of articulated sausage machine after slipping on a patch of lard. And of course she could ring me, but she won’t…


A month has passed with no news…

Almost exactly a month ago today I sent off a form to an organisation called Traceline to ask them to help me find my father. Three days later I wrote a little post about my uncertainty about what would happen next. Two and a half weeks later, I briefly alluded to the fact that I’d not heard anything yet. A week further on, and we’re back to today, and is there any news? Unfortunately, no.

Of course, I honestly don’t know what to expect. This process could take a month, it could take two months, it could take six. I think I assumed I’d have heard something by now because the expedited process (where you know their date of birth) is supposed to only take a week. But time just keeps passing with very little to show for it. At the moment I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they’re not just torturing me, but give it another month or so and I might rename them in slightly more colourful language.

So how have I been dealing with it? Difficult question. Thanks for asking. I guess the most honest answer would probably that I’m kind of confused about the whole thing. About two weeks ago, in the middle of a particularly stressful time at work, I was in a meeting and my phone rang. The caller’s number was withheld. I couldn’t answer the phone in the room. I hung up on them. They rang again, so I turned my phone off. They didn’t leave a message. After the meeting I started asking all the people I thought who might have called me, but none of them had done. And gradually I started to wonder to myself – who could have been at the other end of the line? Who had I hung up on? What did it mean? What had I done? Had I just lost my chance forever? These thoughts stayed with me for days.

In retrospect, what this situation means is simply that this whole process clearly means an awful lot to me – much much more than I had been expecting. This was probably not a pivotal moment – in fact it was almost certainly a trivial moment – no more or less nerve-wracking that the rest of the month has been. I just momentarily had something in particular I could focus on. Or at least so I tell myself. Patience, Tom. Be patient.

One development that has happened is that I decided to talk to my mother about the whole thing. For some reason, I had decided originally that I was going to do this completely on my own without getting the rest of my family involved. I don’t think I can explain why particularly except to say that there are things in the world that I find hard to look at directly and family don’t tend to let you keep things in your peripheral vision. There’s probably some other stuff going on too – I’ve wanted independence from my family and from restrictive encompassing structures like families for years as well. This could have been another attempt to assert that. But that’s a whole other industrial-sized can of worms that I think I should probably avoid opening right now.

Anyway, I don’t think my mother realises how strange and difficult this whole absent father thing is for me, or how much bluster and brashness I’ve had to cultivate to be even vaguely able to approach it head on. So when I said that I had something that I wanted to tell her (and when I obviously had trouble getting it out), my liberal mother (with so much faith in me, evidently) immediately assumed that I had contracted some fatal gay disease. When I explained instead that I’d decided to look for my father, she seemed totally cool about the whole thing, almost a little surprised that I found the whole thing so emotionally charged. Typically she was also terribly – aggravatingly – efficient about it too. She kept trying to tell me what I should be doing next, even though I repeatedly pointed out that it had taken me twenty odd years to get to this stage and that maybe I wasn’t quite ready to treat the whole thing like a crusade quite yet.

I think I finally got through to her when I talked about my biggest concern – that I would find my father only for him to be repulsed by me because I’m gay. I’m not ashamed of being gay – in fact I’m proud of myself for having the nerve to be publically gay and not hiding it. And normally, I’m not terribly interested whether other people have issues with me being gay or not. But with your own father… I don’t know… I think I’m looking for him in part to help me understand where I came from and why I am the way I am. He seems to be the closest in the family to sharing my passions and interests. I kind of want him to be proud of what i’ve accomplished – i don’t want to be a let-down or an embarrassment. I certainly don’t want to be ahborent to him. I don’t want him to find me disgusting. And I have to face the possibility that he might. He’s in his sixties. There’s no guarantee that he’s of a liberal mindset, no way of knowing what his reaction might be at all. It’s a concern. It’s a big concern.

So what now? I’m in the States. I’m going to conferences. I’m keeping myself busy and thinking about wider and more disparate material. When I get home in a week’s time, if there’s still no word from Traceline, then I guess I have to ring them up. I need to know what’s been happening. I need to know what progress has been made. And in the meantime, I have to hope that if we ever do meet that he’s prepared to be non-judgemental and engage with me in some way. What more can I hope for? What more can I do?


In which time passes too quick, too slow…

So it’s been four days since I had the conversations with the people at the various finding-family agencies. It’s been three days since I filled in the Traceline form and sent it off. I think it’s only been two days since the form from the stroppy self-involved Salvation Army people arrived and I tore it up into little pieces. It’s probably now in one of the many take-out boxes around my sitting room. So it’s only then really been one day since I last made a decision about this whole finding father project, and already it feels like an eternity. And how weird is that – after all I’ve only been circling these decisions for the last fifteen years.

When you fast-track an application with Traceline they’ll let you know if the person is alive very quickly – within five days, I think. But you need to have a full date of birth for that, and unfortunately I don’t have it. They don’t tell you how long the process takes otherwise, so it could be anything up to a month. And when a conclusion comes, it’s quite possible that it won’t be one I’m happy with. Traceline (weirdly for government) don’t have access to an enormous amount of data – just births, deaths and GP registrations. I don’t know how I’ll react to an abortive search. The prospect slightly scares me, even though there’s data even in that scenario. After all, if they can’t find him that means that he’s not registered at a GP or died within England or Wales. In that circumstance, I’d have to work on the principle that he’s probably still alive, just somewhere else in the world.

Of course it’s questionable that I’ll have the energy to take it much further if this particular search fails. Each step towards this point over the last five years has been incremental, difficult and slow to reach. That’s not to say that the mind has been willing but the system weak – quite the opposite. The inertia is all self-inflicted. In some ways, the whole process feels like tonguing a bad tooth when you’re too scared of going to the dentist. Your solution for years? You just don’t eat on that side of your mouth. But the tooth doesn’t get any better and it never will.

On the other hand, I don’t know what the hell I’ll do with any information I do get. What’s the next stage if the guy has been dead for years? Will it be worse if he died last week or ten years ago? Will there be anyone else I can contact? What effect will it have on them if I do so? And if he’s alive – what the hell do I have to say to him? I have one question which I tell myself is the reason for doing all of this. It’s a simple, blunt question for a person who felt like a changeling in someone else’s family. It is: why am I the way I am? But as I think about it, it seems like it’s just the tip of the iceberg.


A brief aside about filling in forms…

A weirdly disorienting couple of days all things considered and some of my fuses appear unusually short and fizzy as a result. This morning I filled in the form from Traceline and sent it off, filling the A4 sheet with all the information I have about my father. I had four inches of untouched space left. Lots of big decisions rising out of the mists and only confused headspace available to deal with them. Brain’s moving faster than it has in a long while. Oh and yesterday I got to see one of my heroes – Frank Black from the Pixies – playing live in the 6music hub, and even watched him play and acoustic version of a classic Pixies song that didn’t go out on the air. It all adds to the heady hallucinogenic feel. More later.


Another step in finding my father?

So my long protracted semi-attempt to work up the courage to find my father has moved on one more tiny little step step with a couple of nerve-wracking and unsettling conversations with (1) the Salvation Army and (2) Traceline. The Salvation Army conversation really freaked me out – they give you some kind of random caseworker, ask you questions about your relative and then tell you what they’ll do for you. Here’s the disturbing bit: if you decide to find the relative through them, there are almost no circumstances where they won’t give out your home address. I was really uncomfortable with this – I haven’t seen my father in thirty years and – from the impression I get of him – he wasn’t the most reliable and together of people in the early seventies. I have no idea whatsoever of what he’s like in person today but I’m pretty much certain that I don’t want him turning up on my doorstep out of the blue. Their service is free, but I can’t see any circumstance where I’ll be using it. I kept getting a feeling that there was some kind of near-cultish agenda or dogma in the work they do that’s more about them than it is about the people who go to them for help, and I came away from the phonecall shaken and feeling really exposed and weirded out.

Traceline seemed (on first impressions) to be a much more plausible option. You have to pay them for the trace, but it’s not an enormous amount of money, and they do it by checking GPs records. They’ll tell you if your relative is dead and – if you want to get in contact with them – you can get them to forward a letter to the person concerned. They’ll contact that person first to see if they want the letter. If not, no harm no foul. That seems like an entirely more controllable and less alarming way of going around the whole thing – if for no other reason that you could probably just put a work address in any eventual correspondence until you’d got more comfortable with the whole idea. The only thing that creeps me out about them is that although they said they were a government department, I can’t really find a presence for them online. This does not instill me with an enormous amount of faith…

The more I think about my father, the more convinced I am that the guy is dead. As I understand it from my mother (who to be honest I don’t think knew that much about his background) both of his parents died relatively young of cancer. He’d be 65 today and I can’t really believe that he wouldn’t have looked online and seen that I’m here and looking for him. If he is still alive, I guess his lack of response to everything I’ve done is a bit of a gentle kick in the netherparts, but it wouldn’t be too gutting. I’m just interested now in just getting some of the mystery out of the way. Is he alive? Is he dead? Does he at least know that I’m interested in meeting him (at least once, before one of us dies)? I don’t need – I don’t want – much more than that…

While I’m on the subject: wow does writing about it all in public make it easier to deal with. Starting a conversation with people about this stuff at work or with friends feels really weird and awkward and not particularly appealing. Who wants to spring that on someone in the middle of their day? Who wants to have to deal with people’s awkward reactions when you’re already feeling a bit random. Not me. But somehow putting it on the site keeps it at arms length. Making it public – but through the site – seems to ring-fence how awkward people can feel about the whole thing and limits how much they feel the need to be sympathetic or whatever. Realistically, sure it’s scary but who needs sympathy? What does it do but make you more aware of the stuff you’re trying to avoid thinking about? Yay weblogs. Yay websites. Life-saving little things. Very much approve.

Anyway, for anyone else in the same situation, here are the contact detail of the two organisations that I contacted today during my lunch break

  • Salvation Army support
    Fee for tracing someone £35
    Phone: 0845 6344747 mon-fri – 8.15-3.45pm
  • Traceline
    Father needs to be named on Birth Certificate
    £30 required to make search. £25 to forward a letter.
    Phone: 0151 471 4811