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‘One spring morning my dad vanished’: the son of poet Heathcote Williams looks back

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Just after becoming a new father, the author and dramatist abandoned his family. Charlie Gilmour, his son, tries to solve the riddle of the man he never really knew

Within minutes of my arrival at my biological father’s hospital bed, he exploded. He just went off, like a paint grenade. Blood everywhere. It had been pooling inside him for a while, then something gave way, and out it all came. Part of me suspected I had been the cause. Certain animals, when trapped, do the same – reflex bleeding, the last defence. A simulacrum of illness to put predators off their meal. It certainly got my old man off the hook. This deathbed reunion had threatened to be a moment of reckoning for a lifetime of absence. Instead, I found myself attempting to comfort the man who had silently vanished in the dead of night when I was a baby.

“Just in case anything happens,” I told him, as he was wheeled away for an emergency operation that was likely to kill him, “I want you to know I love you.”

The mystery of my dad was like a maddening itch to me

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