As a wandering nomad of no fixed abode, there have been times when I have almost forgotten that I’m English. But now I am writing this blog on a Virgin Voyager train that will arrive in Crewe in about 15 minutes, and Crewe is where my parents were living when, very nearly 43 years ago, I was born. I’m not getting off there, just passing through (which the uncharitable may say is the best way to see Crewe), but there is a real feeling of coming back to my roots. It’s good, sometimes, to remember where you come from.

Me and my mumI suppose I’ve never been quite sure what it means to be English. Some light was shed on the matter by a book I found in our rented cottage this week, called “Watching the English”, by social anthropologist Kate Fox. With penetrating wit and insight, she dissects our national psyche, including our ineptitude at appropriate greetings and goodbyes, our perpetual state of embarrassment in social situations (think Hugh Grant), our need for privacy and respect for the privacy of others, our sense of humour, our penchant for home improvements, our class structure, and the subtle nuances of English pub etiquette.

I was relieved to find that a few of the traits I disliked in myself turn out not to be of my making at all, but an inevitable consequence of being English. Why am I never sure whether to greet people with a handshake (business), hug (Californian), kiss three times (French), kiss on both cheeks (London), kiss on one cheek (not quite sure), or that series of weird feints that happens when you try to convey that you are open to any of the above but want the other person to decide.

Juxtaposed with this, it has also been interesting to spend time with my mother and my sister, the first time we have had the Savage women together in about 12 months. Influenced by Kate Fox the anthropologist, I found myself scrutinising them both, trying to figure out what traits I owe to genetics and/or upbringing. Do I see mannerisms from my mother echoed in my sister, or in myself? How do my sister and I differ, and what do we have in common (apart from a tendency towards epic adventures – she walked 1,000 miles across Europe this summer)? And how much say do I have in all this – or is even my “free will” actually a product of my nationality, genes, upbringing, and external influences? If I peeled away all these layers of the onion, what would be left? Come to think of it, an onion doesn’t really have anything in the middle – it is made up entirely of layers. Would I be the same?

Field testing a Marmot jacket in a white-outYou might think this is all a bit pointless and rambling, but the reason it piques my curiosity is that I want to know what my filters are. Do I see things clearly, or have I been conditioned to see reality in a particular way – by the media, politicians, advertisers, or the prevailing culture? Only once I have stripped away the filters will I have any hope of seeing things as they really are, the essential truth.

Whoo, what was in that coffee I had earlier? This is all a bit metaphysical for this time of the morning!

Other Stuff:

In case you’re wondering…. The rest of my inspiration/motivation blog series is still in the pipeline. But life has been busy with 3 weeks of meetings in London, and then this week of important family time. It will be worth the wait (I hope!).

Went for a fabulous hike with my sister on Tuesday, around a horseshoe of mountains to the north of Ambleside. We spent most of the hike in a cloud, the snow was deeper than we had expected, and a bitterly cold wind was flaying our cheeks and making our noses run. At one point Tanya asked if I wanted to turn around, and I had to think hard before I decided. For me, the whole point of hiking up a mountain is to see the view. Sure, I wanted to spend time with my sister, but we could be doing that a lot more enjoyably in a nice cosy pub.

The Savage women in the beautiful Lake District

But we’d come 5/12 of the way (according to Tanya’s estimate), so it seemed to make sense to carry on. And I’m so glad we did. After eating a swift lunch while cowering from the howling wind in the lee of a small cairn, the clouds parted for just a few moments to offer spectacular views of the valleys and mountains around, with patches of sunshine making the autumn colours glow. The views continued to tease during the descent – any time I tried to take a picture, the view had vanished long before I managed to get my camera out – but even those few glimpses made it all worthwhile. And after a well-earned pint in front of the open fire in the Badger Bar pub, we agreed that the walk had been well worth a few chilly fingers and toes.

Thanks to Jordan Campbell at Marmot for the fantastic new jackets. They were well tested on that hike, and performed fantastically!

I would like to heartily recommend Kendal in Cumbria as a fantastic place to visit. It is probably the closest thing that the UK has to a Boulder, Colorado – a fantastic centre for hiking, climbing, caving, and other outdoorsy stuff. Gorgeous countryside all around, which inspired Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, amongst others. Going on this week is the Kendal Mountain Festival, our equivalent of Banff.

Yesterday afternoon I went to hear a KMF presentation by journalist Tarquin Cooper. I resisted the urge to throw rotten tomatoes in retaliation for his previous misdemeanour, when he chose to focus on my one ocean-rowing failure rather than my four successes. No doubt Kate Fox would say that it is part of the English journalist’s job description to home in on the negative rather than the positive. I also had a swift drink with Ed Douglas, who wrote one of my favourite ever interview features after our hike together a couple of years ago in the Peak District. He had just won the Boardman Trasker Prize for Mountain Literature, for his book with Ron Fawcett. Congrats to Ed – and look out for his environmental writing as well.

Roz Roams: if you haven’t caught up with the latest episodes of “Roz Roams”, the land-based version of the “Roz Rows” podcast, check it out at the Roz Roams website. Also available on iTunes. Many thanks to Vic Phillipson in Norway for being co-host, webmaster and sound engineer.

Did anybody see “Harmony“, the new film and movement for social change launched yesterday by HRH Prince Charles? The movie premiered on NBC last night. I missed it, but I’d love to hear what it was like. HRH is one of my heroes – he’s been talking about sustainability, religious tolerance, and complementary medicine for decades now, and the rest of the world is finally catching up with him. All credit to him for sticking to his guns (if a pacifist can be said to do so) for all this time. His time has now come.

Oops, got to go. Train about to arrive in Birmingham and I have to change for Cheltenham. Hurrah for Virgin Trains for having WiFi. Boo that it’s not free, and that it defaults to German Google!


  • Roz, I think that book sounds very interesting and will have to take a look. While I am not English, I’ve been looking into my ancestry and actually I’m very English, Scottish, and Irish! It would be fun to see if any traits have survived the centuries.

  • Well first – it’s a treat to see Rita fit enough to be stomping about with her daughters after all that time with dodgy hips! We are very pleased to see you looking so much better.

  • Roz: If I may attempt a response to your implied question…

    In my experience your second and third paragraphs apply equally to all visitors from other countries where social norms differ. One might as well ask what it means to be quintessentially Japanese, German, Arab or Peruvian.

    One can’t help but wonder what other traits you dislike in yourself, and ask whether they are disliked by people who know you!

    Certainly an excessive respect for those with whom one happens to agree is unhealthy; such as people in show-business whom we see only through the lense of performance, or for one specific interest of a politician. A common error is the assumption that because a person is admired for one aspect, their pronouncements on others are equally valid. A healthy skepticism of information (“show me the data”) and of peoples’ motives (“why do you believe that?”) is invaluable and too often omitted.

    Experience isn’t what happens to you; it’s what you do with what happens to you. Your “filters” can never be stripped away, only changed by experience and the mechanistic onion analogy is not appropriate for human beings. Perhaps your Mother’s experience as a pastor might help. Otherwise, rather than introspectively “contemplate your navel”, keep living life as you are doing, and stick with the writing style of Part 1 of your autobiography.*

    What really matters in the end is not what you think of yourself, but that you are comfortable with what others think of you.



  • Roz,
    While we were out for dinner together, a couple of wonderful friends talked about your long row ‘cross the Atlantic. I then remembered a little of what I had heard some time ago. It does seem trite to say, all who know of your adventures are thankful for who you are, for what your are doing, and have said so, but—nevertheless, thanks.The depth and breadth of Human Ability is always astonishing, and reassuring (mostly).
    In early June of ’85, I was in Ambleside, staying at the Youth Hostel there for a couple of nights.
    The weather was uncharacteristically perfect and I hiked up to Scafell
    Pike. Met a Yorkshireman along the way, hell of a nice fellow, who had to leave his ailing mate back due to sickness. We hiked a bit, and he talked while I apologized for having so much difficulty understanding him. So I saw the views you and your sister were unable to see fully the other day. Now a quarter century has passed, I still look forward to another Pub, another walk on Skye, and most intriguingly, a walk up the moors of Lewis and a flight to the Faroe Islands;this latter is a hazy dream, but what a wonderful way to invade Denmark and then to descend into Europe from the savage North.
    One(two, actually) memory of my hitching from Keswick down into the Ambleside: Two ladies stopped and took me on board after which we traveled up a road to a hilltop where there was an ancient Stone Circle. Fascinating place but they seemed entirely unwilling to socialize or inform me of anything they might have known. So I went back to the “Ambleside” road, could not catch another ride (it was getting late), and needed to stretch out for the night. This “Crazy Yank”, in a somewhat desperate move, made his way into the front grounds of a very fine home which was fronted by a very large hedge row, I was able to find a sufficiently concealed spot, set out my sleeping arrangements, and spent a comfortable night and escaped the next day without, presumably, anyone noticing (or caring?) I was on their property, I have always been grateful to those land owners!
    The sorry part of being in Ambleside is that I was too broke to be able to visit Dove Cottage. On the other side, I met a woman who was a “Waller” who told me something of the tradition of Wall building, and that was just about wonderful.
    England, like any country, is deeply complex and reflects the humanity inhabiting the country, Our “Job” is to spend our lives learning about ourselves, a job always to be unfinished. My wife likes to remind me of Maya Angelou’s words: ” We are more alike than unalike.”
    Best of luck to you, Roz.
    aanduu@charter,net. Minden, Nevada.

    • Thanks, Warren, for your comment, and I hope one day you will be able to return to Wordsworth Country when less broke! 🙂

  • I actually did see Prince Charles film, and it was absolutely brilliant! A definite “must see.” EVERYONE should see it.

    There was also an hour long interview/special with him that was on NBC just before the airing of “Harmony.” That was really quite interesting as well. I’m sure you can probably find that on the interwebs somewhere.

    I was very impressed, and left wanting to make this mandatory viewing for…well…everybody. I don’t know how it’s being distributed, but it would be fabulous if it could be shown in schools.

    Anyway, definitely check it out!

  • Lets agree two kisses by virtue of the fact that at one point we were Kew and Barnes girls! Went to Barnes at the weekend, it always leaves me heartbroken but sure I am now in the right place. Kew Gardens….Barnes pond….good coffee….San Remo – nothing to miss really 🙂

    • Hi Nicole

      So sorry that I’m not likely to see you this trip. I’m now down in Salcombe and hard at work on my next book. Being very hermit-like! I’m having to skip seeing rather too many of my best friends, but duty calls. I should be back for a bit longer next year, and hope to see you then.

      Meanwhile, love to Rich and the boys, and I hope you are all well!

  • I don’t know what the collective noun for savage women is, but it nice to see you all together and enjoying being in England again Roz. In answer to your more searching question, I think we’re all inevitably products of everything and everyone we’ve been in contact with throughout our lives, so we are what we are! Best wishes, Steve

    • I would agree, Steve, but hopefully a bit of free will in there too – I think we can choose which experiences and influences we choose to absorb, and which to reject.

      As for the collective noun, I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere!

  • “Harmony” can be summarized simply by the phrase you have written and talked about, Roz: “If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you” … and all of the myriad implications.

    Prince Charles has been “aware” for decades, and thankfully he has come out with this movie which calls for a revolution in the way we think. It is beautiful, entertaining and inspirational.

    Hopefully, many people who have yet to become champions will see this movie or read the book, then summon their courage and get out of our comfort zone, step into the limelight and advocate in word and deed. We need boots on the ground in this fight to stabilize the environment … it is becoming clear that we have past the point of no return.

  • Prince Charles is a nice enough fellow but doesn’t actually contribute anything much except for a nice warm feeling among people who like his cosy style. There’s nothing actually useful in the film. He’s very much like his father (although he won’t care to hear that).

  • It’s funny. Although my (mostly British) ancestors emigrated to America before the revolution, I experience a profound sense of homecoming when I visit England.

    And, although I live today in the same suburban California county where I was born 50 years ago, I have always felt like an outsider here.

    I don’t think it’s race memory. I don’t feel the slightest twinge of “recognition” in Germany or France (source of other ancestors).

    …I’m probably just recalling all the English film/TV/literature I’ve enjoyed over my lifetime. Do lovers of English film/TV/literature with no English ancestry feel just as sentimental visiting England?

    (Do anglophiles dream of English sheep?)

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