“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas, 1914–53

And so I had to obey ‘procedure’ and return to England. The night before I left, I met Bogdan’s parents for the first time. His father, a tall, erect engineer, who, like his wife spoke nothing other than Romanian, and his mother, a perfectly charming lady with the kindest face. Bogdan had told them all about our adventures and about the state of the orphanage, and without hesitation they both insisted that when I returned, I should stay with them, and meanwhile they would do their best to provide some daily comfort for George.

But as I left, all optimism evaporated. Did I really know what I was doing? Certainly, there had been some forward movement, but at each junction I was being knocked back. The Romanian authorities, in the main, appeared indifferent to the plight of the ‘orphans’ and hostile to the idea of removal abroad, albeit into a family life. The British seemed hardly any better. 

I stared gloomily out of the aeroplane window as the airliner took off for London. All I had to show for my endeavours over the past weeks was a tiny picture of this waif-like figure which might ultimately be his passport photograph. I had no other documents to identify either the child or my endeavour to adopt him.

I wanted to get home, to the comfort of my home and my wife, and to unload this increasing burden of both fury and depression – fury that at a distance not much greater than that between London and Aberdeen, the good burghers of Vienna were indulging themselves in expensive cafés with rich coffee and tasty patisserie while children in Bucharest, just six hundred miles away, and indeed throughout Romania, were abandoned and given barely enough food to survive. Depression itself was not something I had encountered before I embarked on this trip – but now, for the first time in my life, I was experiencing waves of helplessness and anxiety.

I got home, and Carmel and I each took a kitchen chair and sat out in the garden under the washing line trying to make sense of what I had just been through. As best I could, I retraced my steps through Bacau and Bucharest, telling her about the pollution, the poverty, the disgusting state of the two orphanages which I had visited, the apparent corruption, and the extraordinary gulf between the rich – those who had access to hard currency – and the poor, who did not. I told her of the unhelpful behaviour of the British consulate staff, my meeting with Bogdan, his delightful parents and my surprise at the lack of knowledge, within at least their circle of Romanian society, of the appalling conditions in the hundreds of orphanages around their country. When it came to describing my first visit to Orphanage Number One, and recalling the little squint-eyed, red-haired, boy standing wailing at the door, I finally succumbed to quite uncontrollable tears.

There was little that Carmel could say or do in the face of my distress, other than sit and listen and hold my hand. The cool, impossibly green English evening seemed an eternity away from the dust of the orphanage yard. The world was upside down, and at that moment, I felt powerless to right it. But gradually the sobs subsided, as I pulled myself together, concentrating on telling her of the next steps that I had to take. 

“Don’t despair,” she said. “You have found him and I know that you will get him out. After a decent night’s sleep, you will feel stronger. You know that in every step of the way along this difficult path you have my full support. I only wish I could be with you.”

Of course, I couldn’t sleep. As I attempted to relax in my home, I took in my surroundings with a new eye. I was surrounded by so much that I took for granted: toothpaste in the morning to brush my teeth, food on the table at breakfast, fresh milk, delivered to the door in whatever quantities and at whatever frequency I might dictate. Driving to the rail station along roads without suspension-crunching potholes, commuting into work on clean rolling stock. Walking the last half mile or so in Birmingham city centre without the acrid taste of exhaust fumes caking my throat, breathing air which, by comparison with Bucharest, was positively mountain fresh. 

I sat by my tape deck and recorded a lengthy letter to my brothers in New Zealand, keeping them abreast of my endeavours. They later told me that I sounded so dreadful that they seriously considered advising me not to go any further. 

But, of course, as I reflected, deep into my first night back home, I had in fact made substantial headway and gradually my spirits rose. Despite the obstacles placed in my path by both the Romanian and British authorities, I had managed to identify a child who could be brought out of an orphanage. Not only that, but Bogdan, bless him, had promised that he and his parents would visit every day to ensure that even in small quantities, they would provide better sustenance for him, and give him some comfort for part of the long-abandoned days that he had to endure in that perfectly dreadful place.

And, of course, Bogdan had that most precious of documents, his birth certificate, precious, that is, because, as he had assured me a second time just before I left, in the absence of an identity card which of course the poor child did not have, that was his one and vitally important identity document, without which the state would probably not be able, without greater effort, to either deal with or dispose of him. There was, of course, no guarantee, but it seemed reasonable enough to me that given the antipathy shown towards him in the orphanage and the failure of anybody to seek him out as a potential adoptee, he would not be going anywhere within the next few weeks, while I endeavoured to complete a plan to have him adopted, released, and brought into this country.

So, what now? Somehow, Bogdan and I had to kick-start the international adoption process in the absence of any current law which would be observed by either the  Romanian state or the British authorities. There was no way that, in my view, the child could survive in the orphanage for months to come while a new parliament ground out the preparation and approval of a new raft of the necessary legislation. The friendly judge whom Bogdan and I had found in the Bucharest law courts had indicated a willingness, even an eagerness, to digest the current United Kingdom legislation if I could somehow get it to him, and had he not told me that he would be delighted to consider it and proffer it as a model which the new law-makers in Bucharest might wish to consider? He at least was on our side, and even if, in the cold light of day, it seemed a hopeless idea, I decided that anything and everything was worth a try. So, on my first evening back at work, I visited our library and took out a copy of the 1976 Adoption Act.

And then to Bob Edwards, my wife’s accountant. He had known of my proposed trip to Romania, given that he had signed a certificate of solvency for us, and had told me that if there was anything he could do, I should only ask. So, feeling slightly guilty, never having been one to hold people to such promises, I rang him.

“Bob,” I said. “I need to copy a statute and transmit it over to Romania and try, somehow, to persuade the powers that be that our adoption legislation might well form a helpful basis for legislation which at the moment they simply do not have.”

He asked me how he could help.

“I have the fax number of the British embassy and, potty as it sounds, I want to transmit an Act of Parliament to the embassy, have it collected by a contact I have over there and he will pass it to a family judge.”

I could imagine Bob’s face.

“Can’t you send it?”

“I would if I had any confidence in the postal service over there, but I sent a letter to a doctor a month ago and it still hasn’t arrived, and time is precious.”

“It’ll take all night, you know,” he said. I sensed that he was trying hard not to laugh. 

“Ah,” I replied, conspiratorially. “It’s one of a number of avenues that I simply have to follow, and although the embassy will probably not welcome an enormous document coming through the fax machine, with the letter that I’ve prepared, I hope that they’ll agree to act as a conduit.”

“Come along, then, to my office, and we’ll get to work.”

And so, late into the night of my second night home, I laboured over Bob’s fax machine and transmitted page after page of adoption legislation to the embassy, explaining and confirming again in a covering letter why it was that they were presented with this statute and who would be collecting it. As far as I knew, once a document had been transmitted by a fax machine to another, the receiving station would simply follow the instruction, and print the facsimile. I very much doubted that my ruse would be welcomed by embassy staff, just as I realised that I was requiring the receiving fax machine to use a very great deal of paper, a commodity which was, as far as I could establish, not the most immediately available in Bucharest. But it did not need a great deal of soul-searching to justify what I was doing, and although I could not view this as a victory of any size, the fact that I was doing something constructive helped to lighten my mood.

Bogdan, for his part, promised that he would pick up the paperwork as soon as it arrived and he would get on with this task of trying to adopt George. Frankly, I had to admit to a number of doubts on that front. But then again, even if the legal process got nowhere, he would nonetheless be able to produce the necessary consent from the mother to satisfy the Romanian and British authorities and to allow the orphanage to release the child. So I left him to it while I addressed equally pressing things in the UK. 


I knew that I had to contact the Department of Health and try and make some sense of the sequence that the paperwork and Kirsty Rowe had insisted I follow. Not only had she told me, but I had read, both in the Marriotts’ advice and on the paperwork received from the Department of Health that I would not get the infant out of the orphanage, let alone into the United Kingdom, without the increasingly, at least in my eyes, unattainable entry clearance. Then I needed a visa. The clearance would come from London, while the visa was issued by the embassy. And the embassy would not move one centimetre forward without the nod from London.

The main point of attack would now obviously have to be in London, given that Kirsty Rowe had already made it plain that there was nothing more the embassy would or could do until Home Office entry clearance was received, and both of us knew that the Home Office would do nothing without the approval of the Department of Health.

And Kirsty Rowe had underlined Home Office insistence that the orphanage was not to release the child until entry clearance had been given.

The one advantage about my being sent back to England to continue the process was that I could pursue the relevant officials without having to rely on the assistance of the international telephone operator. So, back to the telephone I went. I had the name of the first person with whom I should make contact at the Home Office immigration department, which appeared to nestle somewhere in the Elephant and Castle area of London. 

An apt name, I thought, as I waited interminably on my umpteenth call. The hide of an elephant and the immovability of a castle.


The next step had to be to convince the Department of Health, who, I knew, needed the child’s medical history. That, thankfully, was set out on the BAAF form and that had been completed by the paediatrician in Bucharest, translated from Romanian by Lily, and had now been sent on, I hoped, by the embassy. The home study report had already been completed, which I thought was an advantage, since it seemed to be accepted that prospective adopters were expected to leave that particularly important part of the process, albeit on DHSS advice, until after they had identified a child. All these documents had been transmitted to London by the local authority before I had left England.

Over the next few days and gradually, but to me, achingly slowly, I managed to ascend what appeared to be an interminable ladder, speaking to one and then another civil servant, and explaining my case at each time and to each new voice. 

No one, of course, had the slightest interest in my history. Nor did they have any inclination to either listen to or understand the ghastly difficulties faced by the children in those orphanages. I was, I had to recognise, just another citizen trying to wriggle through the numerous hoops presented by United Kingdom immigration legislation, to sneak another unwanted entrant into England, where the welfare system was already struggling to meet the needs of its indigenous population.

My only weapon, at this stage, was stubbornness. I was not to be put off or deflected, and there were days when I put through as many as five calls to the Department of Health, insisting, each time, that I be given the name of the person to whom I was speaking and insisting, too, that they, equally, were aware of the subject matter of my call.

I explained over and over again that I had approval from my local authority to adopt not one but two children, and that I had been promised co-operation at the highest level by the then Secretary of State for Health. While that was not strictly true, these were desperate times, and if I could drop a name, however tangentially, it might just help move my case centimetre by centimetre along the corridors which I imagined snaked through the grey bleakness of the aptly named Lunar House.

Obviously, none of the officials who took my calls had the faintest idea of the horrors which I had observed. And so I felt I had to tell them. I refined my description to a succinct and, in my view, hard-hitting summary which I would always end by making it plain that I felt it was now my duty to ensure that George should not have to endure his plight for one hour longer than was absolutely necessary. Every hour which passed, I repeated, caused him further damage and they could rest assured that I would not desist from contacting the department on a daily, if not hourly, basis and I would when necessary take my case to the highest authority (whatever I imagined that meant).

Then, one Friday morning in mid August, after yet another volley of small-arms fire at the hapless civil servant on the other end of the line, I seemed to hear, in my increasingly fevered imagination, another bolt being withdrawn on the door which remained stubbornly closed. But if I had detected a sense of reluctant co-operation, it was to be blown away.

I was asked, again, to provide a medical certificate for the child. Of course, I had done so, and would they please look again at the file. There was a pause.

“Ah, yes. Well, what about a Romanian social work report?” asked my interrogator. The urge to ask whether he was winding me up was almost overwhelming. But I maintained as much calm as I could.

“You probably don’t realise how poor the social work resources are in that country,” I said. “Sure, they have social workers but they are terribly thin on the ground and the whole question of a welfare service is, I’m afraid, laughable. If it were otherwise, and the government could afford social workers, it could afford not to keep the children in these ghastly institutions. But anyway, I’ll think you’ll find that a social work report from Romania isn’t on your checklist; what you do need is a home study report from my local authority rather than one in Romania, and if you look at my file, you’ll see that one has been prepared and approved by the Warwickshire adoption panel.”

Again, I went through what was now a familiar mantra. I could not leave this child in this orphanage a moment longer and I insisted that the department stop erecting new obstacles as some sort of delaying tactic. I had done everything asked of me. I had submitted to a home study report by my local authority, which had, through its adoption panel, agreed that I and my wife were fit persons to adopt two children from Romania. Carmel and I had been subjected to medical and financial examinations and had passed muster. I had completed all the necessary government paperwork through the Romanian embassy and I had visited the country and identified a child. The child appeared physically well, although dreadfully delayed, and not a moment more was to be lost. I had complied to the letter with the guidance set out on the curiously labelled RON 117, and could do no more. The ball was very firmly in their court.

I needed entry clearance before the British consulate would provide me with a visa, and I had, as I explained into the phone, the uneasy impression that I was being bounced between the two of them. They should be talking to each other and probably were, but were being of no assistance to me, a British citizen, as a result. Gritting my teeth, I explained that I knew very well and did not need to be told that international adoptions were still very much the exception, and I quite understood that procedures had to be observed and protocols followed. However, while civil servants scratched their chins and gave the lowest priority to children in Romania, the damage that those children had already suffered would be magnified.

Then, a bombshell. “We require confirmation that while the child was in the orphanage he was never visited by anyone and that he never left the orphanage at any time.”

Where on earth did that one come from?

“You’re not serious.”

“That is a requirement of this department before we can recommend to the Home Office that entry be permitted.”

“But it’s obvious,” I protested. “The child was abandoned. You’ve seen the social enquiry report which put him there in the first place. That, for heaven’s sake, was when he was 10 days old. And he’s been there ever since.”

The voice on the other end of the phone never wavered. “That information must be passed in the form of a letter or other confirmation from the orphanage, and until it has been produced, we can take your application no further.”

“Look. Nothing of this kind was mentioned by the embassy, and I was told simply to return to England. I set out all the documents which were required, and those which had not already been sent to the department in London were handed over to the Vice Consul. I am now three thousand miles away from the orphanage, and the likelihood of my being able to get hold of the sort of declaration which you have just announced in anything under many months from now is remote. The postal service is haphazard, and the orphanage has other things to attend to.”

I was, as I spoke, wondering just how remote from reality these people were. Did they imagine that parents, family, friends would make arrangements to take the infants out for tea or have them to stay from time to time? Or was this, as I suspected it was, just another obstacle thrown in my path, and no doubt those of other aspiring adopters, by a government desperate to limit the influx of these children?

“I’m afraid that the state of the postal service is not something that we can take into account. You need to be aware of the department’s requirements. No doubt you will inform us when you have the necessary information.”

“Well, thanks a million,” I muttered as I rang off. How many more hurdles were going to be presented by these people? I wondered, between waves of despair. I could see any request being delayed in the post for months, given the non-arrival of my letter to Sadovici, and even on arrival, could I really imagine that the orphanage would prepare such a nonsense letter and return it? It would be quicker for me to fly to Romania and present the request myself, have it translated, take it to the embassy and then fly back. 


I got home that night and immediately phoned Bogdan and gave him the news of this latest development. But he didn’t seem fazed by it at all.

“No problem. I’ll drop by the orphanage tomorrow, and get a letter which confirms that, and I’ll drop it straight in to Lily and then the embassy. What do you think the Kent are for?”

Of course, I had left him with several hundred Kent, in case of ‘eventualities’, and despite any misgivings about the graft that this exposed, jumping whatever queue there might be with a few cigarettes seemed a reasonable step to take in the face of the intransigence which I was experiencing in England.

In fact it took two days, but on the 14th August I received a telex from Bogdan via Tony Coltman:



So, Kirsty Rowe had refused to see Bogdan. In my fury, I imagined that she, like I, had overlooked the fact that I continued to have help in Romania and that the certificate, far from being an impossibility, was a matter of such simplicity. Perhaps I was being unfair, and she was not being obstructive, but all my dealings with her and the department seemed to point in the other direction. In any event, she couldn’t deny that the request for the certificate, however much it had arrived late and out of left field, had now been complied with. And the ‘decision’? I reckoned that that must relate to Bogdan’s application for an adoption order. That, however, didn’t affect the need for entry clearance.

So I renewed my telephonic onslaught with increasing energy, and again found myself locked into something akin to a revolving door.


On the Friday after I had received Bogdan’s telex, and after daily calls to the department, the door appeared, at last, to creak open. With what seemed quite unnecessary reluctance on their part, I was given the news I desperately sought. It was likely that I would, after all, be given entry clearance, and that confirmation would be likely on the following Monday. Both I and the consulate, I was told, would be informed. 

But my experiences prompted me to remain cautious. Just as before, I asked for the name and department of the person to whom I was speaking. 

“Mr Brunskill.”

“And when should I telephone you on Monday for confirmation that entry clearance will be forthcoming?”

“In the morning, any time after 9am,” said Mr Brunskill.

“I’m very grateful to you,” I said. “I will ring you on Monday morning.”

I replaced the receiver with new hope. The continuing and dispiriting grind of one step forward and two steps back might now just be reversing itself. But I was not so suffused with confidence that I could tell either Carmel or Bogdan of this development and I kept it to myself over the weekend, barely able to concentrate on anything else.

On Monday the 20th August, barely able to exercise patience, and anxious not to hassle Brunskill, I waited until 9.30am, then picked up the phone and dialled the now familiar number.

I gave the department I needed and the specific extension of Mr Brunskill. 

There was no answer and the telephone simply dialled out.

I rang again and spoke to the main switchboard and asked for the department but gave no extension. The phone was answered by a young man to whom I had never spoken before.

“Good morning. I wonder if you would be kind enough to put me through to Mr Brunskill? I spoke to him on Friday and he is expecting my call.”

“That’s not possible, Sir. Mr Brunskill is now on annual leave.”


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