The Ourang Medan/ Agree

Did you feel, even if something never existed, it makes sense?

That it should exist- and you believe in it?

Do you like films about secret good intentions being defeated, wrongly explained, and evidence of them removed for damage limitation reasons? Where the hero persists, through terrible self doubt, when he or she could actually be Captain Ahab as much as Batman?

Our children should never have been placed together.

But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be together. Welcome to one of the biggest paradoxes going. I’m not sure it has a name. But many adopters live it daily.

It is true that some children shouldn’t be together, by the way. Knowing the difference is the trick. Do you push on, into destruction, and lose everything like the monomaniacal Ahab- or fight for truth, at a staggering cost?

The SS Ourang Medan is a ghost ship story. Whether it existed- and its lethal cargo of confiscated nerve agents being carried incognito- isn’t the issue. The issue is the Americans granting citizenship to the scientists of Japans  infamous Unit 731 without trying them for war crimes- for their own nefarious ends in nerve gas development. The ghost ship story works as a primer, a conversation starter. I find fairy tale and myth useful in telling adoption, because that is actually what we take part in when we sign the paperwork.


Okay, weird example. But do you get the analogy?

You see, I don’t think our private battles, failures, weaknesses and perseverance were meaningless. I often see films as a good way of telling this kind of stuff. Think “High Noon”. Think “Electra Glide in Blue” and “Days of Glory“.

What makes thinking clearly about making the right call so hard is the flak we go through.

There are many voices in the flak, who want us to make agreement with them. Some agreements are fatal. Our identity, our destiny, and our hope be destroyed by making wrong agreements.

Some professionals, professional reports and friends say things that attack our identity as carers’ for our amazing children- we, the people who know our children better than anybody else.

Words are said- over a coffee, in print, by email- that attack our very lifeblood and sacred core.

Confusion, bald and graceless half truths, and statements that wither our resolve are made. In the pain, you get tempted to make agreements with darkness. But our fears- and with those, our destruction- are only empowered by us making agreement with them.

We have to agree with them in order to unleash their carnage.


You can unpick this by “reverse engineering” the story from another film, “The Verdict“. Aside from being a cracking movie, it raises so many ethical questions it is taught as an ethics piece at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (see link).

The hero- or anti hero, depending on your view- is a washed up lawyer, Frank Galvin.

Galvin takes on a medical malpractice case, and in doing so incurs the wrath and spite of the legal, medical and religious power bases (I will call them “the voices” here). It gets very personal, as every foul in the book is thrown at him. (You’re really going to have to watch the film to get the maximum out of the following)

The voices’ first strategy. Accusation. “You rebel, trouble maker” and then the fear comes in- “We’re telling/Going to show you up”

However, Galvin’s case initially goes very well and very fast.

New tactic. Mockery. The best presentation of the case is dismissed by the judge and the defence.

The mockery doesn’t have to be overt. To many adopters, it can be along the lines of “Who are you? You’re just those failed, frightened stupid little people who don’t know your children or their prognosis  and you keep messing up- and you have got this wrong, how can you possibly succeed in your hopes and dreams? Just look at the enormity of the barriers and lack of resources/ whatever” -or words to that effect. The people closest to us often do this the most, as Galvin finds out with his new girlfriend.

Ever heard something like that?


The voices work best in fear.

But Galvin came up with new resolve and strategies. Now the opposition is getting really angry, and very frightened.

New strategy- let’s talk. Let’s have a nice coffee, and be rational. This happens just at the point you are nearly in victory, or at least have a settled vision for the future and a resolve. The voices are usually persistent in this- they will keep trying to sow seeds of doubt.


Never have a coffee with the voices. Don’t let negative people and statements into your “inner courts”

Have you ever thought- Am I too focused? Am I a Pollyanna? Is the wisdom of the social worker, support worker, teacher, CAMHS worker, professional report writer, you name it, better than what I instinctively know?

For us and the smallholding vision it was “Don’t be silly mate. Come on, you cant wire a plug. You hate gardening. You’re not disciplined enough. You will end up punching the goats because you are irritable. Look, why not accept D is going you be in an institution forever. You can have a nice career, and go and buy him an ice cream now and again”


We made agreements for years. It perpetrated a stalemate, and because none of the agreements offered hope, things got really, really bad.

So after years of saying how hard everything was, and telling people how little hope there was, and acting desperately, we decided that we were going to break our agreements with gloom.


We have decided to aggressively and prophetically step out and sell and change everything to win the best environment and future for our children- this smallholding dream we are calling “Shabba Farm” (Prophetically means doing something that predicts, or creates the future in some way. Interestingly, we actually got a prophecy along the way as well!)

We don’t believe in fate, as in the sense of “fatalism” . We make our own fate. I believe in a positive destiny and I want to say to all of you in the adoption journey- and especially people stuck in a hideous episode that never seems to resolve or improve- FIGHT!

To this end, mediate on the words of General Creighton Abrams-“They’ve got us surrounded again, the poor bastards.”

First Of The Last Calls/ Diet Mordor



In about 1977, my forward thinking primary school admitted a boy with profound physical disabilities. Let’s call him Ray.

In those days, children with just about any physical or cognitive disabilities were sent to places like “St Boltoph’s Really Special School for the Sake of Wider Societies Discomfort” or whatever passed for that dreadful Functionalism thinking at the time. There would be a big sign out the front telling everybody how special everybody inside was, and a sort of grim awe of the place, like it was Diet Mordor.

I mean, I found out recently my great grandmother spent the rest of her life in a “mental hospital” (as they were called) because she had dared to have a reactive breakdown after loosing her husband in her 40’s, and having 13 children to support. True story.

So. My school explained Ray’s needs, and our expected responses, in the weeks running up to his arrival. And then came the day.

Our world imploded.

Within days the only people talking to, or playing with Ray, were some of the girls (isn’t that so true) and the scary dinner ladies, Mrs Headbutt and Mrs- Physical- Assault When- You- Go- In- The -Big -Field- Even -After- A- Football.

To everybody else, he represented an inconvenient truth. Seeing Ray reminded us that the world might be wilder and more frightening than our current reality. The cost of listening to his pronunciation was too hard, and the thought of being seen with him too uncool, and the thought of putting up with his complex emotional needs, even for a millisecond, was too dreadful.

I was a child, and a child of the 1970’s at that, so I’m not going to be hard on myself. Bear in mind most of BBC light entertainment were serial paedophiles, you played on 200 foot high building sites on your Chopper with no health and safety fences, as Bill Bryson said in “Notes From A Small Island”, the average British sitcom viewer thought here there was something richly comic about having a black person as a neighbour. It wasn’t an insightful, kind or tolerant place.

You see, from all our circle of support 8 years ago when we first had the children placed, we only have one couple left.


The childhood passive brutality is an aside, but there are parallels with our lost friends, and me and my peers of 1977.

Our “funky” adoption scared, appalled, disturbed and weirded out a lot of people (I mean aside from us) and we got ghosted out of their life with “the first of the last calls” and terminal full diary’s. It really was too hard too watch for many, and the damage on the children so enormous and scary. The casserole of primary and secondary trauma.

We are completely cool about it, by the way. We would likely done the same. This isn’t a moan, but more a “Oh yeah!” moment when you realise you never see baby pigeons, and its really hard to buy a Star Bar.


A lot of it is just normal life as well. People grow apart and all that. We are all too busy, and too dispersed- if not by miles, by travel times.

But you won’t make it without friends.

Some time ago, we came to a crossroads in our friendships. We started to be intentional about friends, and as Ken Robinson states in his book “The Element”, we decided to try and find people who belong to our “tribe” – for “when tribes gather in the same place the opportunities for mutual inspiration become intense”. We are friendly with everybody, but not everybody gets into the inner courts.

We were especially careful of anybody, no matter how well meaning, who made agreements with negativity or reminded us how hard things are. We said it before on here, but it has to be glass half full all the time.


The kind of friends we have in our life now are friends who know us warts and all, get our children (or at least accept them because they love us) and also have the ability to speak into our life. Our friends have seen us in tears, depressed, and without hope. Our friends have had their house- or even children- damaged by our children, and haven’t pulled the eject cord.

We have friends who have helped us financially when we had nothing. There was a period when I was out of work, and transitioned to very part time work to be D’s carer. I remember selling electrical goods at Cash Converters to buy rice, and searching on tiptoes in the back of kitchen cupboards, hoping there was a can or some lentils lurking there we forgot about. Our mortgage got paid when I had no job, our grocery’s bought during the same period, and many a time our letterbox flapped in the night and money was put through. Our church gave us some money to fix something really expensive once in a time of utter desperation.


Find your tribe, but understand why you aren’t in other tribes. That includes in the adoption community.

By the way, still waiting for the call about moving in………