- From: The Daily Telegraph
- November 24, 2009
THIRTY-one days, 11 hours, 44 minutes and 13 seconds. Eight seconds. Five seconds. Two seconds.
There's a certain depressing predictability about the countdown to Christmas, which kicks into high gear at this time of year: you know, for example, that some twit will refuse to hang decorations on the basis that it might offend a religious minority and that such a stance will have the sole effect of annoying everybody equally.
The first cards will arrive, smugly written and sent, proving that someone, somewhere, has nothing better to do than punch out 500 soul-destroyingly dull words about how Aunt Mildred was shipped off to a nursing home in May and cousin Werner took up the euphonium in July.
And then there's that stupid ad on the radio, reminding you at least four times an hour that you need to get your order in now if you want your couch delivered ahead of the festive season.
And so, with feverish visions of a sack-wielding Santa getting crushed to death by a couple of sofa-toting deliverymen, you'll rush to the phone, only to realise that you're panicking for nothing because you don't need a couch.
In the midst of it all, it's easy to forget that there are people who, through sheer miserable circumstance, are divorced from the kind of temporary madness that overtakes the rest of us.
Currently, Ken Thompson can also measure his life by days, hours and seconds, only in his case, there's absolutely no chance of respite coming along in the form of a credit card bill and a handful of broken new years' resolutions.
For 19 hellish months, he has been without his only child - a six-year-old named Andrew who was aged just four when his mother Melinda spirited him to an undisclosed overseas location.
Last December, Mr Thompson successfully petitioned the Family Court to lift a ban on identifying Andrew in the media, allowing him to go public with the details of his search for his son.
In another lifetime, he was the state's deputy fire chief, but three months ago he finally took a leave of absence, acknowledging that every moment spent not looking for Andrew felt like a gross betrayal of his boy.
With no idea as to where to start looking, he has pinned his hopes on a Find Andrew website and the resources of the international online community, which has rallied to support his exhaustive efforts.
In doing so, Mr Thompson has laid bare the raw details of his life.
At times, the strain has been overwhelming.
He has been examined by psychiatrists, submitted to polygraph testing and been admitted to hospital suffering double pneumonia.
Two months ago, his lung capacity was just 15 per cent - doctors warned him that if he didn't start taking care of himself, the consequences would almost certainly be fatal.
Every milestone brings fresh agony.
Statistically, Mr Thompson was told, children in Andrew's situation are likely to be returned within 12 weeks of their abduction. On that date last year, he wrote an email to international authorities to thank them for their continued efforts.
He cried as he hit the button to send it.
This morning, as with every other, he will get up and check his phone and his emails, praying that something will have changed overnight, spurred by the memory of his tiny son's hugs and the hope that one day, Andrew will be returned to him.
In the meantime, as the clock ticks on, he remains prisoner to a timetable he has no control over.
"This Christmas . . . I really don't know. Honestly, I'm just doing things day-to-day," he said yesterday.
"I can't plan ahead because I don't know how I'll be feeling from one day to the next. I'm living in limbo. It's just this ongoing, horrible trauma of not knowing where my child is - and my wife - and it's with me 24 hours a day.
"It's a really difficult feeling to describe. It's just constant uncertainty, incredible stress and anxiety and just not being able to move forward. My whole life is on hold until I find Andrew."
Anyone with information about the location of Andrew or his mother is asked to contatc the Australian Federal Police on 6126 7777.
Anyone who recognises the mother is asked not to approach her but to contact the AFP on the above number which applies in all states and territories.