Taking a moment

I read somewhere or other that our lives are a series of moments. Now, the physicist in me is quick to point out that this is a statement of the bleeding obvious. But my philosophical side would counter that, in any life, there are likely to be some moments that have greater salience than others. They just might not be the ones we’d expect.

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Why I’m voting to remain in the European Union

I don’t remember much from my time at school, but one moment has remained in a dusty corner at the back of my mind for over twenty years.

I was at a weekend conference for teenagers to learn more about the European Union, which had brought together people like me from across the continent. And we spent a fun couple of days listening to and questioning representatives of the various EU institutions and learning about the different countries that we all called home.

On the first day, though, we’d all had to introduce ourselves and say where we came from. So there was me and a few others from the UK, some Germans, some Italians, and so forth.

But then this tiny, dark-haired girl from Spain stood up.

“Hello,” she said. “My name’s Maria. And I’m a European.”

A simple statement, maybe, but a profound one, too. And the cheering and applause that followed were as heartfelt as they were enthusiastic. Continue reading

You don’t have to be an accountant to achieve career success

New research tells us that those from the upper echelons of society are most likely to secure the top jobs in Britain’s leading legal and financial services firms. It’s outrageous, sure, and we should definitely do something about it. But what we really need to combat is the bizarre notion that only lawyers, bankers and accountants can achieve career success. Continue reading

A quick update

To say that things have been a little hectic recently would be somewhat of an understatement. And they haven’t really calmed down, to be honest. So I guess I’m just going to have to live with this new level of frenzied activity. Which means I’m going to have to become a whole lot more disciplined about setting aside time to, you know, eat, think… and write! Continue reading

It’s scooting time

Last week, if you could cast your mind back, you may recall that I bemoaned the lack of watersports in my life. Well, you can rest assured that this was a one off. Because we have a new addition to the family, in the form of a Perception Scooter sit on top kayak. I used to think that sit on tops weren’t ‘real’ kayaks, but were rather aimed at pudgy holidaymakers looking to get sunburned in the surf. But I’m pleased to admit that I was wrong. Very wrong. Because my Scooter is truly awesome. Continue reading

Back on the water again

Last Saturday brought my very first regatta with Clevedon Pilot Gig Club. And so it was that I found myself at six o’clock in the morning, standing forlornly at the side of the road next to the parked-up gig*, hoping desperately that I’d got the right day, time and place to meet up with my fellow rowers. Thankfully, I had. And we were soon in the car, gig in tow, heading south west. Continue reading

Why I run (or, more specifically, why I can’t stop running)

I think I’ve been rumbled. I thought I’d managed to hide it, but it appears that the cat may be out of the bag. At some point during the last couple of years, I’ve somehow become a runner. Not just someone who goes for a run from time to time, but an actual runner. A proper runner. With all the shorts, mud and chafing that comes with it. Continue reading

A sense of place

It’s the question that I dread above all others. A conversation starter that stops me dead in my tracks. Four little words that confuse and conspire. An innocent enquiry that sends me spiralling into an abyss of self-doubt. I’m thirty seven years old and I’m still not able to answer that most simple of queries: ‘Where are you from?’

I want to say that I was born in Suffolk, that I grew up in Dorset and that I went to university in Staffordshire. That I have lived in England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. That I currently reside in Somerset but have no idea how much longer I’ll be there. But all that comes out of my mouth is ‘Oh, all over, really.’ And what I mean is ‘I haven’t a clue’.

We all have many attributes that define us, from our gender and our physical appearance to our taste in music and our choice of career. But our geographical heritage lies at the heart of who we consider ourselves to be. Whether we’re a northerner, a southerner, Yorkshireman, Cornishman, Liverpudlian or Bristolian, these are still the ties that bind.

I can see why this was such a big thing in decades and centuries past, when people rarely moved more than a few miles from where they were born. But in this age of cheap travel, insecure employment and wide-eyed globalisation, what does it mean to ask someone where they are from? Do we mean where they were born? Or where they live now? Or where they have lived for the longest period of time? Can any of us, in fact, now even claim to be from anywhere at all?

I think we can. But it’s not as simple as it used to be. Some of us have a clear idea of where we are from. It might, for a privileged few, be the ancestral family home in Oxfordshire or the Scottish highlands. For others it is the house in which we grew up and where our parents still live. Indeed, I have several friends in their thirties, all with houses and families of their own, who still refer to visiting their parents as ‘going home’.

Others of us, meanwhile, lead a more nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place in response to the demands of family, career or simple curiosity. We collect addresses and residency permits like our childhood selves used to accumulate stamps or football cards. Some places pass fleetingly through our consciousness, but others leave an indelible impression on our soul. They become part of who we are.

I challenge anyone, for example, to spend time in the wilds of Scotland and not develop a sense of awe at the majesty of nature. Or in Russia and not learn to reflect on the darkness of the human condition. Or in rural Provence and not long for the simplicity of a life built by one’s own hands.

Just as scientists can tell from our bones, our hair and our teeth much about when, where and how we have lived, the places we have called home all make a difference to how we think, feel and behave. We absorb a tiny part of that place’s culture, traditions and values, adding them to the ever-growing repository of ideas and attitudes that we call ‘me’.

So if you want to learn what makes me tick, ask me about the things that have influenced me the most. Ask me about the people I have known, the things I have done and the places I have been. Ask me where I have lived, where I have loved and where I have felt most alive. Just don’t, please, ask me where I’m from.