Friday, 12 November 2010

CAFCASS - Putting you in harm's way

A rare letter from CAFCASS came today - their first since they allocated your caseworker.

Actually, calling it a 'letter' is excessively charitable. It was a compliments slip and a home made form, signed by a secretary.

On the compliments slip, they misspelled your Step-Mum's name.

On the form they'd made, they'd misspelled the word 'regular'.

Cut a long story short, even though you were taken from me without a moment's thought by Judge W in January and have been staying in your Step-Mum's home in London with me ever since, even though Step-Mum is obliged by a court order to take you back west every third week, they are now, after ten months, demanding to search her criminal record.

This is the lady who gave us a home when the courts just turfed me out and took you from me.

The lady who has incurred tens of thousands of pounds of debt to keep us in the game until now, and still seeing you.

The lady who has given up almost every single day of her annual leave entitlement this year to support the pair of us, even to the extent of acting as Daddy's MacKenzie friend at the start of the year, and going toe-to-toe with her barrister.

The lady who, like me, is at the point of physical collapse thanks to Mummy and her accomplices.

The lady who you wanted to talk to on Wednesday night, whose heart bleeds for you no less than mine.

They're saying that it was ok to put you in her care for the last year without any intervention, but that if she doesn't provide a copy of her blank criminal record now, she becomes a danger to you. That and the fact that they've met with Mummy behind my back, and not with me at all, tells me they are already doing their bit to try and force us even further apart than we are now.

I am your Dad. I have parental responsibility for you. They like me to have that because it means I have to pay the CSA even if I don't get to see you. What I say when you're with me, goes.

Nobody else but Dads like me get quangos telling them who they can and can't have round their children. The greatest irony is that Mummy farms you out at every opportunity - what's the betting that even though I have tapes of Mummy saying Little Grandad used to hit his wife and kids, they've not bothered to give him a hard time? We already know your nursery are free to break the law and cut me out of your life. Mummy has the power of veto over everything these days, I can do nothing about that.

Bu nobody is signing their form. They can get lost. We're not giving up on you.

To their eternal credit, other people aren't giving up on us, either - or the other thousands of children like you.

See you later, son. Teddy is still in your bed. We'll wake him together when you get here.

Love from Daddy

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Sick and Tired

It's the middle of the night, but I can't sleep.

Neither, though, can I articulate to my satisfaction the process I go through when I receive, once in a while, correspondence from Mummy's solicitors. They seem to know when I am away from home - last time it was during the Lib Dem conference. Tonight it was as I arrived in Cardiff.

Such messages are like a drug. My blackberry couldn't open it fast enough, the adrenalin just kicks in and you need to know what it says. The other night I got in such a state reading papers from the court that I thought my own application was an application against me and panicked!

Suffice to say for tonight, after two difficult hours on the phone with your Step-Mum, I am sick in the stomach and too tired to write much about it. Dinner this evening with some senior politicians was made rather harder with a raft of new junk from Mummy's evil solicitor swilling round my head.

Mummy has disgraced herself again. I am told I will get 10 minutes with you on Skype tomorrow, that's it. 'Holiday' with me (they call it a holiday, I simply call it you and I actually seeing one another) she has agreed on the basis that she will not ask the nursery to change their decision to ban me from their premises, and refuses to take part in travelling. I asked for a further week for you to see Grandma and Big Grandad. She didn't even dignify that with a response.

Meantime, my insistence that she pays for the things she took from our house is now met with threats of new, spurious court applications, based on information your Grandad probably impersonated me (yet again) to attain.

What they are doing to me is criminal, and yet the courts and the system incite it. As Fathers 4 Justice say - "In the family courts, nobody can hear you scream". Indeed, it is common practice for fathers to be pushed to the limits of human endurance and then berated for having had the temerity to suffer the natural consequences.

What I can say for sure, with Christian conviction, is that nobody is going to get away with this. Not only will they one day have to account for their actions, as we all will, but I will not allow the people who are destroying our lives to rest whilst I have breath in me. Their evil deeds will eventually be made public, and their humiliation will be at their own hands Every last one of them.

Clap along and nod your head, like you do in the car!

"They will not force us,  
They will stop degrading us,  
They will not control us
We will be victorious"

Love from Daddy.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

No Escape

I'm off to Wales today with work.

I don't seem to leave London much these days, except to travel to take you back after your three-weekly visit to me. It felt particularly cruel, therefore, that I had to leave from Paddington this afternoon.

I couldn't bring myself to clap eyes on the bear himself, with whom we have played so many times this year. Digby Wyatt's magnificent trainshed invokes, for me, a mixed cocktail of emotions.

I didn't care much for having to look longingly at the Penzance train next to mine, knowing it will be passing you in a couple of hours or so.

I get to Reading and, as I glance out of the window, one of your favourite engines goes past. My heart sinks.

I hope to speak to you tomorrow, but after last week, I am resigned to the likelihood that I won't.

I want to make your bed ready for Friday - but you put your teddy bear to sleep there before you left - and I can't bring myself to wake him.

Love from Daddy

Monday, 8 November 2010

Ed the Duck

So, 'Red Ed' has a new baby son.

He and Mrs Miliband must be chuffed - oh, wait, no.

The man who offers himself as a future Prime Minister not only didn't bother to register as his elder son's father, but brought the need to have so done upon himself because he and the woman he has fathered two children with 'haven't got round' to getting married.

This seems careless in the extreme.

I'm sure the as yet un-named little lad will be comforted to know that his Dad found time to see himself re-elected to parliament, to beat his own brother to the Labour party leadership, but not to give formal recognition to his relationships with either his elder son or their mother.

Wouldn't it be nice for all children to know that their parents' commitment to them, and to each other, at a most basic and foundational level, trumped their career aspirations?

Shouldn't that be a pre-requisite to parenthood?

Your Daddy and your Step-Mum will be able to get married just as soon as Mummy stops using legal aid-funded solicitors to attempt to filibuster the process of getting the finances settled. After eleven months, it's still not done - and there aren't even any assets. It was Mummy's lovely barrister (she reminded me of Cruella De Ville) who condescendingly pronounced at the first court hearing this year "There IS no money". We are fighting for the opportunity to publicly cement our relationship, to show the world, and you, that we love each other and are here to stay.

It's a classic family court argument - Mummy has spent all year trying to argue that your Step-Mum is fickle and will throw me out, whilst contemporaneously stopping us from getting married and all the time pushing us tens of thousands into debt.

And you? I've spent the year trying to convince a court that a father who is prepared to give up a well-paid career to be a full time Daddy has something to offer that a mother who chooses to send you to nursery on her day off doesn't. Apparently I am some sort of nutter for suggesting this - and they say sex discrimination disadvantages women.

By ducking his responsibilities, Mr Miliband doesn't just insult his own children. He insults every child.

Further, he insults and seeks to belittle the raison d’ĂȘtre of every loving father. 

His actions tell us that he doesn't think we're necessary.

I'm sorry that you will have to find out the hard way that we are. I will prove it by not giving up on you.

Love from Daddy

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Radio Silence

Here's another Saturday morning email...

XXXX,

You failed to attempt to call the house on Wednesday, which is the agreed day (read the court order).

You never showed up on Skype or telephoned all day, and you didn’t answer my call or respond to my voicemail that evening.

Calling and getting <my son>  to leave messages on other days than those agreed does not constitute fulfilment of the order, neither does my having not been around to take these calls constitute a failure on my part.

I am about to leave the house for the day. Since Saturday is agreed, and I have not spoken to <my son> since I saw you on Monday, I would like to speak to him by Skype this evening, any time after 1700, for a meaningful session, please.

My mobile is out of action, pending replacement. However my Skype account is logged in. You can use that from the word go. <My son's> login has been provided to you already but is <username and password>

<Daddy>


The outcome?

No reply to the email, but at 1700, Mummy telephoned. I got to talk to myself for four minutes before Mummy hung up on me. 

It was more upsetting than spending Wednesday evening sat by a phone that never rang.

A year ago we lived under the same roof, and having done nothing wrong, I am reduced to this. It is clear that Mummy wants me out of your life and will not stop until she's achieved it. Until the law changes, she'll get almost whatever she asks for. I hope you understand that I've always done my best for you, despite the desperately sad outcomes.

Court order says you get another week with me before December, to make a whopping total of three weeks all year. Remember, the courts are doing what they think is in your best interests!

I have been trying to wait, so that CAFCASS could visit me when you were here. We'll talk about CAFCASS another time, but their report is due this week and they've not even contacted me about what they are working on, if anything. It's quite clear they want to stitch Daddy up, though.

I've given up waiting and made the request today, and asked for an extra week so you can spend some time with Grandma and Big Grandad. 

I don't rate your chances, but I'm trying. We all are.

Love from Daddy.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Boy for Sale

I've always been cynical about those who run businesses caring for the vulnerable, especially since I learned of the extent of the wealth people have amassed in this way.

But I've always been especially wary of nurseries – not least the one you will be in today.

It's impossible to plan what happens in your last years and often, as was the case with your Great-Nana, specialist care of the elderly is required, but I've never understood how it is acceptable for parents to bring a child into the world with the express intention of abrogating their personal responsibility to bring them up.

Don't be seduced by the cutesy titles of the 'settings'. 'Little Ted' is looking through the prison window today. The report into the nursery in Laira, Plymouth, from where Vanessa George sexually abused toddlers, is startling because by all the measured standards, it was 'satisfactory' or 'good' - just like your nusery.

Just as appalling to me has been the response of those who still think that buying and selling the upbringing of little people is a right to be protected, even in the face of this mess.

I really do feel deeply for the woman quoted by the BBC yesterday whose child went to Little Ted's - that could have been you.

But who put the child there?

Who chose to put the child in a nursery - that nursery?

Who set acceptable standards so deplorably low?

Who allowed a nation to believe that putting babies in the care of paid strangers was acceptable, and that not having children when you can’t afford to rear them yourself is an anathema?

Who told us to be appalled when children are taken into care, but that it’s ok to pay to institutionalise our own for five days of the week?

Worse still, we have the response of a father whose children went to Little Ted’s, commenting on the re-branded re-opening of the place: 

The man, who retains anonymity, said: "It had been a good part of the local community, so what happened last year was a real blow to everybody.

"We shouldn't let our communities be ground down by people like Vanessa George.
"It's important to rebuild."

He admitted that the site's history could deter parents.

"It's a big step for any parent to take. But Vanessa George apart, it was a very good nursery.

"I would be happy to send my children to this new one," he said.

That's like saying the Titanic was a superb ship, apart from the regrettable leak caused by the iceberg.

What part of a local community does a business play, which acts as a repository for children whose parents can’t afford to, or won’t, give up working to nurture them to school age?

More to the point, what sort of father says those things when the independent review has stated, very clearly, that a nursery which OFSTED said was ‘satisfactory’ or ‘good’ was “an ideal environment” for child abuse?

When the whole issue was a little more recent and raw, another father said this:

“You look at your child and think ‘how could I let something like this happen’”

I feel nothing but guilt knowing you are languishing in a terrible nursery. I never should have let you end up in one, and I can do nothing about it now, thanks to the courts. I can't find words to express how that pain feels.

I never receive any form of reports on your attendance or achievements. The last time I heard from them was when Mummy's solicitor submitted a report (saying you were doing fine) and a statement from your carer (who claimed I was causing you to bite the other children and staff) direct to the court, bypassing me. That was in June. Nothing since, despite a court order and despite asking repeatedly.

The fact that discriminating against one of your parents like this, and indeed perjury, is illegal, has changed nothing, but with all the other things that are going on, I've not gotten round to pursuing OFSTED and the local authority yet. We're still trying to keep our heads above water here. I have never ever met the women who run the business that has won the contract for your childhood.

In your case, like many other children, the state pays towards, and promotes your attendance at 'Happy Days' so that they can use Mummy to bolster the employment statistics, and the staff to get the NEET figures down.

On the one hand, the taxpayer is justifying funding your childcare to let your 'Single Mum' go to work, and on the other, they are making sure Daddy is out of the picture and under control, when he would do the job much better for free.

It is not arrogance for me to believe that you, my son, are best off in the care of your own flesh and blood in your formative years - God gave you parents for a reason. Your 'Happy Days' are the ones you spend with your family, not in an institution.

18 months or so ago, when your Mummy decided that being a receptionist was more important to her than being a Mummy, the first couple of nurseries we visited were like Romanian orphanages. The novel sight of a real, live, straight man in the nursery had the children looking at me, doe eyed, as if to say 'please take me home'. At one, I witnessed teenager changing a toddler's dirty nappy on a floor that might have been a sandpit, no more than two feet from where another little boy was picking apart his cucumber sandwiches. Meantime, a little boy of maybe 18 months was shut away, alone, behind three closed doors in another room. That was them putting on a show for potential clients!

I thought we'd seen enough to put Mummy off contracting you out, but she pointed out that OFSTED thought these nurseries were perfectly satisfactory. Just like Little Ted's. That, apparently, made it ok - or at least, someone else's fault.

Of course, your attendance at nursery cost almost what Mummy earned, so we didn’t exactly get rich as a result of the sacrifice of your chance to be a toddler at home, either.

Eventually, having little option, I accepted your attendance at a nursery which was, by comparison, exceptional, and had pretty high OFSTED scores. In practice, they were still nowhere near good enough. At one stage I started to avoid going there myself because I couldn't bear to remind myself - I complained about supervision ratios not being kept more than once. Worst of all, I discovered that Mummy had been putting you in there during her days off work, without telling me. If we could have made ends meet on Mummy's salary, I'd have been at home with you all along - with pleasure. As it was, I toiled on to keep a roof over our heads, and took every chance I could to take you out of nursery when I could spare time from work.

Back in March, at the first court hearing where I got any meaningful opportunity to speak, I explained that it was my proposal, on a demonstrably sustainable basis, to give up work and be a full time father to you. It still is.

Essentially, I was saying I wanted to replace the nursery in bringing you up. The amount of time you spent with Mummy would have exceeded the amount of time you spent with me (which was 50% more than you get now).

Mummy burst into tears and stormed out of the room. That wasn't good enough for her - but it was better than I have ever had since she took you.

The District Judge's reply to my offer? "Don't think that will make any difference to where the child lives!".

She was right. It hasn't.

I have been offering all year to give you infinitely more time with both your parents than you currently spend, and that, apparently, is not 'in the best interests of the child'. Nobody is accountable for this decision.

The nursery you are in now, which you were registered at (in breach of court orders) without my prior knowledge, and over which I exert no authority, is not in business because they care about your future.

They are in business to make profits, create employment and justify their existence.

Just like the Solicitors,

and CAFCASS,

and the CSA,

and the stinking Secret Courts.

Fighting your corner this year has almost killed me. Your step-mum and I will be paying off the debts for years. Meantime, your childhood - like so many other children’s - is just seen as a commodity to be traded, although it seems that at no price can we ever buy it back for you.

It rubs it in to see parents who choose not to spend time with their children paying to get rid of them so they can work, when I am barred by the laws of the land from getting you out of that nursery, or even seeing you most of the time.

Some time ago I taught you that the trains from London which pass your nursery bring love from Daddy. Before I was excommunicated, the nursery staff admitted that you used to often go outside and watch them passing. Once in a while, I still sit at Paddington, watching trains leaving for the west and wondering what you're up to. Sometimes, I ask the drivers to make a noise as they pass your nursery, in the vain hope that you will be reminded that I care.

I have no reason to remain in this struggle for any other reason than because I love you. Unlike the others.

Love from Daddy.

I had me about 15 Dr Peppers...

You are a sufficiently precocious little boy that you know you are. It cracks me up.

A conversation at Tesco last week about the man in the moon led to you sitting and watching 'Apollo 13' with me the following afternoon, passing repeatedly, to my astonishment, my 'TV test' - if you can't tell me anything about the programme, it goes off.

"Watch... Pollo thirteen Daddy - spaceship go BANG!      Get - home.   Mmm." 

Fair play! That's pretty much the whole plot, and the special effects knock Peppa Pig into a cocked hat.

You will need to be a little older before you can enjoy many other Tom Hanks films with me, but I did think of you tonight as, having not eaten since lunchtime, I turned buffet-slayer at a House of Commons reception.

I can't eat the lovely food they lay on at Westminster without mentally referencing Forrest Gump:

"Now the really good thing about meetin' the President of the U-ni-ted States... is the food"

I can tell you that the very best thing about meeting anyone at the Palace of Westminster is the cocktail sausages on sticks, although I suspect if I'd been there on 'family' business, there wouldn't have been quite the same extravagant welcome.

When you're a separated Dad, your preoccupation with your missing child extends to situations where your children do not ordinarily accompany you.

As I dug into another canape portion of fish and chips, being bored to death by a stranger who seemed short of someone to talk to and had cornered me for the second time, I thought what you would have made it all.

I could almost picture you in your little suit, making a mess, munching on the prawn toast whilst trying to look like all the other people there, the average age of whom was a good 25 times your own, yet knowing all the time that you were being 'cute' - and sharing the joke. It's the fact that I see little glimpses of my own nature in you that reminds me you really are still my son - just.

I wish I could post a picture of you the last time you came to my office, stood on a packed platform in the morning peak, suited, booted, fruit shoot in hand and your 'paper under your arm, to prove my point.

This time last week, you were free as a bird. We'd been out into London to buy some more track for your model railway amongst other things. Tonight, you will have been waiting to be collected after another ten hour stint as a statistic for someone's business, to be fed and bundled into bed ready for another early start to do it all again tomorrow. Meantime, I've been doing politics, but of the 'paying the bills' sort, not that which I feel convicted to engage in.

Part of what I've had to learn this year is that when rights are stripped from you by force, those who stripped them, and those who commissioned them to, are the ones at fault. One day they will be accountable for their decisions.

If I could rescue you tonight, I would.

Love from Daddy.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Fan-Prayer for the Quiet Man

"Never underestimate the determination of a quiet man"

As one of the few, faithful viewers watching him live as he delivered that fateful line, and one of the even fewer who understood just what he meant, and with it the all too familiar destiny of the modern conviction politician, I'm heartened by IDS's words, repeated in today's Daily Mail.

It is meet, to my mind, that he is no longer party leader. On the basis of the ludicrous and frightening responses to the Mail's piece, his views would have to be seriously compromised to gain mass popular support.

Never mind that they are backed up by cold, hard statistics, the kind of facts people like CAFCASS fear the most.

All too often, parliamentarians on their way out eulogise over their 'record', or indeed their 'convictions', and then either vanished without trace or disappointed us once free of the burdensome electorate. Lembit Opik announced he'd found faith, and then promptly did stand-up comedy... 'nuff said.


Mr Duncan-Smith's 'quiet' record since he vacated the Tory hot-seat has demonstrated that his words to that largely apathetic conference audience in 2003 were truly a statement of conviction. He left the stage and went to work. The Centre for Social Justice, set up within a year of his ceding of office, is already part of his legacy and working hard for the cause of families.

It is encouraging, too that he has met such violent opposition. It's a sign that we who cherish the sanctity of marriage and family life are on the march.

My brand of Christian upbringing taught me that resistance is a sign that you are in danger of making progress.
It puts a spring in Daddy's step today to know a member of the cabinet stands shoulder-to-shoulder with me on such a pressing matter of conscience.

Let's be realistic though.

Mr Duncan-Smith will get a hard time today, not least in his own Whitehall department, conditioned as it as been by over a decade of post-modernist Labour marriage-bashing.

It takes guts to speak the truth, when an evil world is baying for comfortable, self-affirming lies.

Similarly, it is much more popular to generically bash 'self-serving politicians' than it is to identify with, and thereby be judged alongside, such a man of conviction.
 
We should pray for IDS today, and others like him, that he might feel encouraged in his stand, and hold his nerve.

We can aspire to his bravery by first affirming it.

Love from Daddy

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Skype-ing to reach you... not.

Last week was the first proper week we'd spent together all year. You were in hospital for half of the other one, in Exeter.

Just to underline that I am a reasonable man, and that I am keen for you to know where you stand with all your family, I decided to honour the court order for 'indirect contact' (telephone and video conferencing) in reverse, even though it doesn't apply to me.

In fact, your Step-Mum and I are working on the principle that where practicable, we will let you talk to any of your family, any time you ask, when you're with us. Grandma and Big Grandpa spoke to you about eight times on Friday...

Last time we went to court, in September, the Judge said that whilst it had been reasonable for me to have had to travel 800 miles plus, every other weekend, for the past six months, to spend time with you, that it was unreasonable for Mummy to have to let you see me every fortnight if she had to share the travelling 50:50.

So, as a sop to me, since I was now only going to see you three-weekly (the least contact ever since you were born) I was awarded an order guaranteeing me at least two telephone calls or video conferences a week. When I asked what I was to do when Mummy failed to comply, I was told she wouldn't. Any Daddy who has been in the family courts knows this is tosh.

Mummy, having told the court she had a webcam, then told me she couldn't afford one. She must have blown her budget on the i-phone, new laptop, new wardrobe, regular changes of hair colour... Sorry. Party games and a long silence from Mummy's solicitor naturally ensued, oh, along with the threat of a non-molestation order to shut me up. What telephone calls I did get with you were brief and often at unsociable hours - 0720 on a weekday and 2140 on a weeknight as examples.

Anyway, at long last, we had our first video conference last Thursday - to allow you to talk to Mummy whilst with me. It lasted forty minutes, and I taped it all. For much of it, we left you to play, first in the lounge, then in your room, so you could play with your kitchen with Mummy, without distraction. It worked a treat.

I offered Mummy a repeat on Saturday. She said she was too busy and would wait til you got back to her. I got that on tape, too.

Anyway, why the rant?

Well, I have had a long day at work, I've been into London on a strike day, to Doncaster and back for a meeting, and rushed home to be ready to talk to you on the webcam for the first time, two months late. That was the light at the end of my tunnel.

I got home, I got your model railway out for you to see on the screen, and waited.

Mummy never called. When I rang her phone just before eight, she didn't answer.

It gives me no pleasure to have to start pursuing your Mum for contempt of court. I gave her every opportunity to sort herself out. I warned her solicitor a fortnight ago that she needed to get her to comply or face the consequences. I even showed Mummy how it can work for you, by letting her speak to you at length during your first proper week with me all year - and I will do so again happily if ever you ask, or on special occasions, in the same way that she got telephone calls from you on her birthday, on mother's day, at Christmas...

The point is, you are two. You can't ring anyone unaided.

On Saturday night, your Mummy was too busy to talk to you. She turned down my offer of a call.

Tonight, I am left feeling the void of another night spent praying I would get to speak to you - and you probably won't know I even tried.

Not yet, anyway. One day.

Love from Daddy.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Solidarity, Sister.

I can still remember the shock I felt, the first time I sat on a packed Glasgow commuter train and heard everyone talking to one another like old friends. It depends where you were brought up, I suppose, where you land on the spectrum - London probably only second to Moscow at the opposing end of the scale. It doesn't take long for people to get the hang of it here in town. Paradoxically, in situations where we accept you have no personal space whatsoever (Victoria line at teatime, anyone?), we become fiercely, aggressively, insular. A packed train is a bizarrely quiet place.

I just love the way having a two-year-old exempts you from this game. Having a little chap who can name half the lines on the underground, hang onto the handrails like a  performing chimp and sit on a packed train in the evening peak, studiously digesting his upside-down copy of the 'Standard', all to order, somehow permits you to speak to your fellow man, or, if that's taking it a bit too far, at least smile at someone.

An effervescent small child is a must, therefore, if you long to break the rules of (dis)engagement, particularly in London. You can rib the middle aged men who are beaten (wilfully) to giving up their seat by an elderly lady, when it becomes apparent that actually the little fella prefers to stand. You can, pretty much whenever you like; play the 'come on, I've got a two year old on my shoulders and you're still holding me up' card when people start pratting about with suitcases you ought to have an HGV licence to tow, right at the foot of an escalator - knowing they are so much less likely to give you a mouthful back or rearrange your teeth when the little boy on your shoulders with whom you are conversing out loud is beaming at them like an angel. I love it. We both do, actually.

As with all performance arts, though, the adage 'never work with children and animals' rings true; sometimes, you get more than you bargained for.

Which is how I came to spend the best part of five hours last night with a weed addict from Camden.

Sat in the waiting room of the railway station in Mummy's home town, with an hour to kill before the dreaded 'hand-over', it became time to do a walkabout. Everyone, willing or not, in that waiting room, was subjected to an illustrated lecture (thanks to the photographs we'd just printed in Asda) on our first full week together at home for ten months. One man, so shocked at your introductory technique of sneaking up behind him and attempting to walk between his legs, made his excuses and went to sit out on the platform.

As time passed, people came and went, until eventually just one lady remained, who'd been there when we arrived. It must have been something to do with your fixation with trains, that the conversation which inevitably takes place between apologist parent and joe public (we'll call her 'Kelly') turned to the prospects for fare dodgers.

"What do you reckon my chances are?" she asked.

I knew she wanted to get to London - just as I'd walked into the station earlier, I'd seen her looking at the fares on the ticket machine, before walking away frustrated towards the platforms.

Cut a long story short, Kelly had a long story to cut short. Just like me.

Kelly has a little boy. He's ten. She'd come to drop him off after a week in London, too.

Kelly had a difficult upbringing. Her Mum had been an addict and died too soon. For the first seven years of his life, her son had lived with her, and barely saw his father. Whilst concerns about her son's welfare had never existed, eventually she decided that she wanted to rid herself of her own addiction; to do the best for her son, she brought in social services, contacted his father, and set him up with a new life with his Dad whilst she went into rehab. She was philosophical about his prospects - as much as she struggled with his father, she believed that the lifestyle, the education and the environment in the west country would be to her son's advantage. She still has him for almost all of the school holidays.

Kelly is a brave woman. I lost you because you were taken from me. Kelly let her little boy go, to try to do the best by him in difficult circumstances.

Having satisified myself as to the plausibility of her plight (she'd missed her National Express coach home, for which she showed me the tickets), I said I'd help her, since I was going back the same way once I'd dropped you off.

When I came back from the worst bit of the week (watching the mother who hit me and the father who she says hit her taking you away from me for another three weeks), I handed Kelly a ticket to London.

She burst into tears and hugged me for all she was worth.

"Why me?" she asked. "I don't deserve this!".

The journey home was an interesting one. We got on the train and sat down to find that someone had left a CAFCASS compliments slip on the table. Kelly knew CAFCASS. As ever, they'd proved more damaging to her son's childhood than any of the other difficulties he'd faced.

The conversation came round to faith. Of the two books Kelly had read in her life, one had been a children's Bible, when she was in rehab. Rehab hadn't gone smoothly - but the good book had stuck with her. She was desperate to know and understand more, but nobody had ever given her the chance.

Kelly's life, as she told her story, was to me the epitome of the real story of so many of those people we see on the tube - she felt lonely in a crowded place.

Amidst the noise of the world, she was craving a 'still, small voice of calm'. The 'I'm alright Jack' charade was merely that.

She felt ashamed. Worthless. A Failure. Her dreams to be clean of drugs, to get a job, to find some meaning in life, seemed to her to be beyond her grasp, undeserved even, as the tears returned.

Her heart bled for her son, setting out in life in conditions she never would have chosen.

As we sped into London, I realised that we had a lot in common.

Telling her so, she berated me. "But you're a fantastic Dad - just look at you and your lovely little boy. You're a lovely man. Look what you did for me tonight".

I was back in the counsellor's chair. This lady, for all that she had suffered, for all that she struggled to understand, had a word in season for me, too. We both needed to be told we weren't condemned.

I don't know if Kelly and I will cross paths again, whether she will take up the invitations I made to come to church and learn more about the God who created and loves her. I hope she will. But I do know that I was preaching to myself as much as to her when I summed up our conversation and offered to pray for her.

"There was nothing in it for me to do what I did tonight, although the Bible tells me I did it for Jesus" I told her. "But seeing your reaction reminded me how I feel when I think of everything God's done for me - if you want to know more about what being a Christian means, hold onto that moment".

Thank you for sparking that conversation out of nothing, son. You played your part for the Lord tonight, too.

Miss you.

Love from Daddy.

It had to happen eventually.

This blog has nearly been started innumerable times. I imagine starting is the most difficult bit of this blogging lark, so let's get it over and done with.

It will serve, I hope, two purposes.

First, it will serve as an insight into the life of a devoted Dad, wronged by an abusive ex-wife and almost destroyed by the unaccountable, secret, family courts. A window on the world of a father being torn from his little boy.

Second, I hope one day it will allow my (now two-year-old) son, with the benefit of understanding and maturity, to understand something of what his Dad went through as he fought to try and stay in his life.

The shroud of anonymity will stay for now, not least since court proceedings are ongoing. The participants in this tale will not fail to recognise themselves, and perhaps it will give me a degree of liberty to express myself which I have not known in real life for almost a year.

The story so far will become apparent relatively quickly, but I'd sooner cut to the chase and we can catch up as we go along...