Tag Archives: achievement

Fully Tested

Spring in Cumbria

I’ve just received results from my first DNA test. I say first because I’m sure the science is still in its infancy. Having dabbled in family history research I already know (on paper) I have relatives in every corner of the British Isles. At first glance I thought my results confirmed what I’d always feared, I am entirely British. How very boring! I was hoping to discover at least one wildly romantic and exotic strain in my ancestry.

But now I’ve studied the data more thoroughly I discover I’m only 73% Brit. So there’s some hope. Actually with mother’s Northumbrian roots it’s no surprise to discover 5% of my genes are Scandinavian, the Vikings were known to love that particular coast. And 5% Celtic, something I’ve always suspected but never been able to prove. And finding Eastern European strains, with trace elements of Jewish, Spanish and Finish/NW Russian probably explains father’s ‘foreign’ characteristics.

But what’s fascinated me most is finding 3% of me comes from the Caucasus. Practically far-flung! Historically many an exotic race fled this contentious region and some infamous ones remain – like the Chechens, a very passionate people (such as my dear friend Ondrei). But this leaves me thinking – what truly defines race? I believe the various places I grew up, and the place where I live now, have made me who I am. Nationality defines character, and the landscape of the British Isles defines my spirit, but it is history which defines my soul. Which is why I wanted to explore my DNA?

Caucasus Mountains

As far as I can see Britain is peopled by the progeny of various waves of immigrants and invaders. There is no indigenous race, nobody who can prove their ancestors have native possession. The only thing my DNA test proves is how I’m descended from a cacophony of ancestors who most probably arrived on Britain’s shores before history was conceived, never mind written.

So what is British? First and foremost an island race who often travel beyond their surrounding seas but generally decide to come home. Otherwise we feel the need to make a ‘little Britain’ wherever we put down roots. It’s inevitable I suppose, to take what’s best and evolve.

I spent most childhood summers on the untamed beaches of Northumberland, near my grandmother’s home, dabbling in rock-pools, careering down seamless sand dunes, splashing the crystal cold waters of the North Sea, wondering when the last invaders beached their boats in the bay.

But my parents lived and worked at the opposite end of the country, in Kent. But it might surprise outsiders to learn that the broad sweep of salt marsh that skirts the Thames Estuary is as remote and unknowable as the wind-swept beaches of Northumbria. Charles Dickens used to walk these ancient sea-walls in search of inspiration. During the sixties, when I lived there, Upchurch was still surrounded by ancient orchards of fruit trees and autumn scaffolds of hops, quilting the northern chalk Downs. Life in Kent revolved around harvest, except nobody liked picking hops; they stain the skin and leave clothes tainted with their pungent smell. No wonder the first history I researched (age 11) was all about the production of beer!

For the last thirty years I’ve occupied a place of outstanding beauty – Cumbria – land of mystery and legend, where two nations meet but never merge. This landscape has its own timelessness, past and present conspire and inspire. But living here requires a particular kind of endurance, because we can experience all four seasons in a single day. True border people are tuned to prevail, I’m sure its distilled in the local DNA.

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I know where I belong. Take me away from my habitat and I’m nothing, or rather what remains is insignificant to who I am or whatever I might be.

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Ice Friends

Listening to the radio a few years ago, I heard this story recounted. I’m only sorry I didn’t take note of their names but still, I believe, it’s a story worth telling.

At the beginning of the Second World War two English children were sent to live in the USA. Their father lectured at an Oxford college and Princeton University had a scheme offering families of British academics temporary homes away from any danger of bombing raids. The children, then aged eight and eleven, arrived with their mother during the autumn of 1941.

While the older brother settled easily into a new way of life his sister struggled. She didn’t like the curriculum at her new school and she missed her English friends, but her favourite pastime was ice skating and most afternoons, after school finished, she would go skating. Her brother didn’t skate but accompanied her as chaperone and generally sat at the side of the rink doing his homework. As the weeks went by his sister befriended an elderly gentleman who also had a passion for ice skating. Gradually a friendship formed and the two would skate and chat together incessantly.

One afternoon, after their skating session ended, the girl asked the old man if he would like to come home for tea. The old man had previously informed her that he was quite good at maths and she was having a problem with her maths homework. The brother, worried by this sudden invitation to a complete stranger, raced home to warn his mother, concerned mainly that she wouldn’t have enough food prepared. Imagine the woman’s surprise when she opened the door – to Albert Einstein. After that he came to tea regularly, and helped both children with their homework.

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Filed under Changes, Family, Friendship, Ice Skating, Life, Loneliness, Wishes

Momentous Times

In the King household the year 2015 is going to be marked by ‘milestone’ birthdays and ‘special’ anniversaries. I should probably be anticipating these occasions with great joy but I wish it was possible to slow the pace down, just a little.

When my daughter was at university, studying psychology, a professor suggested she should write her obituary – To make you aware of what you want to be remembered for.  I thought that was very dark indeed – almost like tempting fate but, for me, birthdays have exactly the same effect. Inevitably I wonder how many more ‘milestone’ birthdays will there be? I’ve tried to ignore the fact that 2015 has already begun but before we get close to celebrating I want to reflect on my reasons for having reservations.

Twenty years ago, with another ‘milestone’ birthday looming, I decided it was time to take a break from pushing my academic boundaries. I’d spent four years studying with the Open University and absolutely enjoyed the challenge but was finding it increasingly difficult to find a balance between my goals and those of my husband and two children. I wasn’t good at half measures and every spare minute was dedicated to reading and research, especially at weekends. At the time we lived ‘over the shop’ and our bespoke craft business had been expanding steadily. With an increased clientele came the need for me to be more available, more hands-on. And our children were growing up, they would soon both be teenagers and I wanted more time for us to do ‘things’ together. In short I felt guilty.

Then, during the first week of that year, life was sent into turmoil when my son fell ill with pneumonia. He’d been suffering from tonsillitis for weeks but the morning I opened the door to his bedroom and found him too sick to respond my instincts went into overdrive. I rang our GP immediately, telling him I was coming to the surgery whether there was an available appointment or not. I scooped my ten year old into my arms, laid him in the back of the car wrapped in a blanket, and drove like a fury into town. David was prescribed three different antibiotics for the next month, but he recovered. And just to help his recovery we took him ice skating.

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Ten years later another ‘momentous’ year loomed. Our business had expanded, everything seemed rosy. We rented a villa in Spain and invited my sister-in-law and her family to join us. The idea was to celebrate together in the sun (except our son couldn’t make it because he was training in Poland) prior to the ‘occassions’ in November. Without trawling over particulars the effective event was that one day my husband nearly drowned while helping to save two little boys and their father from drowning. A vicious rip-tide nearly wiped away our future. Thankfully everyone survived with only minor injuries (and twenty-four hours in a Spanish hospital) but the drama of that day sits in my memory as clearly as any movie and our lives were changed in the knowledge that everything could so easily have turned out differently.

Spain 2005 near disaster

Each of these events led to a tidal change in our lives, driving us towards new goals, new directions which were ultimately more demanding but immeasurably enriching. So forgive me if I approach this year tentatively. I have good reason. And I refuse to make any resolutions, but I’ve written the obituary, just in case.

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Just Cruising

Lazy days at sea

Lazy days at sea

It’s an entirely artificial paradise, and one that is totally, completely, utterly, unashamedly self-indulgent. On board the Navigator of the Seas every effort is made towards having fun. Hungry? Apart from five gourmet restaurants, a huge self-service area and a more sedate dining hall, food and drinks are available 24/7 in the café on Deck 5 where pizzas are made freshly to order, alongside sandwiches, cakes and cookies all temptingly lined up and ready to go. You can also help yourself to as much freshly brewed coffee you may need or any kind of tea or hot chocolate or ice cold lemon water. This luxurious cruise ship has all the trappings of a five-star hotel – twenty metres high chandeliers, carpets that absorb every step, sweeping marble staircases underlit with neon lights, brass fixtures which gleam like polished gold, glass bubble lifts flying up and down between the 15 public decks. And the hub to this floating palace is the Royal Parade, a high street of shops that runs through its heart. It’s hard to believe you are actually on board a boat.

Entertainment? Well the world is at your feet – every night a different show, a different style, a different era. The ship has a host of talented in-house musicians, skaters, singers, dancers, comedians, as well as individual performers who entertain in various bars around the boat. The Two Poets Pub (modelled on everything British) featured a musician who sang so much like Van Morrison it could have been him.  Plus, as if that wasn’t enough, each week a headline act is flown in direct from Las Vegas – we were wowed by Freddie London, a singer who mimics stars like Rod Stewart and Tom Jones to perfection.

Or perhaps the lure of competition rattles your fancy? Each morning the boat’s daily newsletter gave a list of tempting choices from ‘trivia’ in the pub to achieving the biggest belly flop in the pool. No excuse for being lost for something to do.

Deck 11 is where you swim. It contains swimming pools, several Jacuzzis, loungers and a solar room (protected from the elements but featuring another pool and Jacuzzi), alongside the requisite amount of cocktail bars and a big screen where you can watch videos while you laze in the sun. There’s an ample supply of fresh towels, rolled up like blue sausages, to keep you from dripping on the sun-loungers. The Royal Caribbean Company seems to think of everything.

Yet the thing I treasured most was meeting so many of my son David and his fiance Stacey’s new colleagues. They are currently skaters-in-residence alongside eight other professional ice performers on board Navigator. Didn’t I mention the ice rink? Deck 3, Studio B – no need to bring skates, they have plenty to lend, but you must wear a helmet and the ice show is amazing. Even before the end of the first day we were admitted into the family – when you’re working at sea fellow performers look after each other with tight-knit loyalty. It’s a truly international crew, gathered from all over the world – we met people from the Ukraine, Panama, Serbia, Poland, Wales, Italy, Iran, Norway, Canada as well as the USA. And we were treated as members of their family, and it was a true honour to be admitted into such a circle of dedicated and professional performers. The stuff of beautiful memories.

Formal night

Formal night

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Sochi, continued

Well who would have thought Russia would be like the French Riviera? On our first free day we took 
the train west, to Sochi City, and walked down a palm-tree lined boulevard to the harbour to have
lunch in a French themed restaurant - sitting outside! The temperature was 17 C and the sun shone
out of a cloudless blue sky. You would think we’d come for a holiday.
While our warm wooden hut in Banana Street was tucked in the expanding suburbs north of Adler, not
the resort city of Sochi, the mind-blowing venue of the Coastal Olympic park is yet another 15 kilo-metres east. Unfortunately it was only after a gruelling route march from Adler town centre to the
Olympic Village that we discovered all rail transport was free for the duration of the Winter Games!And the specially commissioned trains are smooth, comfortable and very, very frequent. The level of security however would knock spots off any international airport. Everyone is scanned before
entering the station then searched and scanned again before going down to the platform. And if you
make the mistake of leaving the station, because you are a tourist and get easily lost, you have to go through the whole sequence once again. At one check-point (and not even the first of the day)
Lynne had to volunteer (the officer’s polite term) that her tiny glass bottle of Chanel perfume wentinto the bin or we couldn't proceed.  

There is an overwhelming sense, when you first arrive at the Olympic park, that you have stepped
into Future World. The scale is unimaginable. Imagine if you took the O2 arena with five equally
large venues and set them in a circle around a monolithic torch spewing flames then at the periphery place a high-tech, building worthy of Heathrow's Terminal Three, and dot the grand avenues between
with brightly-coloured stages and sponsors pavilions containing state of the art exhibitions and
food courts and you might begin to grasp the enormity of scale. And at night everything becomes animated with light as waves of colour flow over every arena, patterning the surfaces with huge three
dimensional videos.

But it wasn't all rosy. Someone should shoot the person who designed the safety rails in the ice palace. Huge white bars obscured our eyeline. So, in order to see the skating, we had to bob up and down….well that's how we watched….unfortunately some people didn't care that the people sitting behind couldn’t see at all if they stood and leant over the rails. And depending on the event our seats cost between 250 and 350 Euros each!

However the experience of being at Sochi for the Winter Olympics was magical. OK the kids didn't get the marks they strived for, but they skated so beautifully they received a fantastic reception from the Russian skating fans and the on-line distinction of their triple twist being listed 13th of
sports photographs illustrating how elements of winter sports defy the rules of gravity. They’ve
also been voted one of the twenty best-dressed skater teams of all time by Cosmopolitan magazine and listed as one of the ‘hottest’ couples competing in Sochi! 

And what a thing to be, Olympians not once but twice. And that despite having very little funding or support from their association and, at their first event, 12 hours of jet lag. The article in the Guardian newspaper clarified those very facts, and concluded that the fact they managed to get to Sochi was down to their amazing self-discipline and love for the sport. How very true!

It’s not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with the sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause and who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and who at worst, is he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

 

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the USA and 1906 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

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Wishes and Resolutions

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Chinese New Year involves writing wishes on red cards and tying them to a wishing tree. I came across this photograph just as I was setting down my resolutions for the coming New Year. Taken in January 2011 I was en route to a family wedding in New Zealand and stayed in the city just a couple of nights. Although much has happened since the picture was taken I still haven’t managed to achieve any of the goals I set myself (perhaps the wishes were left in Hong Kong?). So this year I’ve decided I must make my resolutions less abstract, because I believe the time has come to knuckle down, work harder and not rely on wishes.

First, I am going to formulate a strategy, a working plan, in order to achieve all I want. I will list everything I need to do in order to succeed. I’ll write it in pencil, so it can be altered, but hang it firmly on my study wall in plain and obvious sight.

As I want these goals to be successful I mustn’t reach too high or too far outside my comfort zone, that wouldn’t work at all. So I’ll break down them down into smaller resolutions that can be measured by accomplishment or disseminated into lesser goals should the need arise. I aim to be pragmatic.

And knowing, as I do, how family and friends generally play havoc with my timetable, I will bend my resolutions around their schedules, being born a willow rather than an oak.

So here they come:

Listen and observe in greater measure – use the tools of discovery.

Limit time spent on the internet. It is so easy to lose precious hours on-line – sometimes I think it should be called the Empty-net.

Write every day. Even if this doesn’t produce anything worth reading the practise is quite necessary.

Expect more people to read what I’ve written as and when it’s finished. Extend your reach.

And finally, don’t be afraid to finish what you’ve started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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