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.
I 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?
You 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!
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.
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!