Big, beautiful, bold Scotland – one UK summer

WP_20170702_14_33_32_ProI don’t like the sunshine. I wilt and can become unpleasant company in the heat. Lazing around by the pool holds no interest for me any more nor does developing a suntan and parading it in bars in the evenings. I don’t enjoy flying nor sitting on coaches to do expensive day trips. I lost my lust for two weeks of hot weather on my annual calendar more than a decade ago, although my husband still requires some of his Vitamin D intake from warmer climes which I approach with an attitude of compromise.

My first trip to Scotland was in 2006. We visited places like Fort William, Isle of Skye, Oban, Isle of Eriska and Edinburgh. My second trip was in 2015 to Ullapool when my brother-in-law married a Scot. This year we were faced with making last minute holiday plans in June and decided we could spend two and half weeks touring the Scottish coast in an anti-clockwise fashion from Northumberland – most of their North Coast 500. In reality we made it up as we went along.

Accommodation was booked the day before and we took advantage of online knocked-down prices. We stayed in guest houses, bed & breakfast places and hotels. Some had their oddities, others were superb but none were crazily expensive. We bought supermarket lunches and headed out to visit castles, stately homes, monuments and landmarks. There were coves and harbours to walk around, hills to climb and towns with pubs and restaurants to rest in.

There was history to learn, architecture to wow us, people to chat with, geology and nature to marvel at, breath-taking scenery and wildlife that surprised us. Seals played in the waters, a white owl nearly sent us off the road as it crossed in front of us one evening and two deer approached us strolling down the street to get their evening feed.

Travelling through Scotland was unpredictable but always fascinating, never boring and jam-packed with photographic opportunities. It was hard to believe we were actually on the same land mass as the Midlands (much as my homeland has great offerings too!) Here is just a selection of the highlights.

 

We all have impressions of places we’ve not seen. With the Scottish Independence and Brexit talks I’d forgotten the beauty and charm that lie beneath human disagreement. Summer 2017 was an unforgettable adventure; it was an enchanting, engaging and enlightening trip that I would wholeheartedly recommend on. I was deeply moved by the beauty of this land and I will be back – to do the rest.

 

DNA – a tall story

No other words for it – I’m excited! Part of my Christmas present was sending off my DNA kit to AncestryDNA and six weeks on, the final part of my Christmas present has been dropped into my email account – the results.

I’d no idea what to expect. Reports about DNA results for ancestry purposes have been on my radar for some time now. They were often negative, however, I chose to close my mind to any negativity and to have this self-indulgent adventure anyway.

Who would have thought a few years ago that one’s spit, a product of the vilest of insults to another, could actually be the key to so much, to life itself. It will take me some time to get to the bottom of all the information and to decide how I’m going to work with it, however, the initial surprise is that I’m far more European than British. I suspected that my great-grandfather’s native Germany might be something of an influence however, the inferences of 18% Scandinavian got me twitching with excitement. Perhaps this is why I love cold weather so much? I’m 62% Western Europe and only 10% British! Suddenly my heart and head that patriotically existed on the British side of the channel all my life are unapologetically tugging me across to the other side of that dividing watercourse.

2017-02-23-2

The ethnicity estimate was only part of the information they provided. I was informed I’d got 31 4th-8th cousins on AncestryDNA. How could they possibly be right? Yet what jazzed me even further was that some of the links to cousins carried ancestral names already known to me. I now had contact points for all these ‘cousins’, so I picked one of the names I knew from high on the probability matching score and fired off a message. Sure enough he came back to me and named a distant point where we were probably related. It was information I had already got via my genealogy work. I can’t explain it – the tingles and fizzy excitement at the thought of one couple getting together two hundred odd years ago and cascading their genes through time and space to here, now, strangers connected by DNA and technology.  I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of something life-changing.

Amongst the excitement, a few thoughts are stirring. I voted Brexit. Admittedly that was because I disagreed with the control the EU had but I was approaching this from a feeling I’m completely British and that I celebrate the different nationalities out there and want to preserve them, not dilute them. I don’t like the thought we’ll lose that and end up as one mishmash of people. I love the French, Germans, Italians, Dutch etc for what defines their wonderful unique countries. Now I know I’m more European than British it is a bit mind-numbing and I’m questioning who I am, who I want to be. The truth is there really isn’t such a thing as a pure race or nationality. We all are a cocktail so complex, so huge, so…. so related and inter-related. I AM a mishmash of people and can’t be defined by words, nor contained by labels.

It will cost me more money doing my research. The Ancestry website has the information sewn up in slick sections and there are payments to be made to access different information. I will be joining Ancestry.com/.co.uk because I need access to all the other family trees that exist on line already. I want to be part of the Ancestry community along with my other cousins.

And I need time – lots of it because I can feel this is going to take me over. I want to find living (and deceased) relatives and ancestral connections. I want to find out where my 6ft tall genes come from (although my bet is on my Scandinavian ancestry!). And I want to unearth stories; stories that I can’t even imagine today.

I suspect this will be the Christmas present that will just keep on giving…

 

 

Divided by a common language – us & US

What every traveller or communicator between the US and UK needs to know – the language differences… You could be forgiven for thinking that English is a one-size-fits-all.

When I was enjoying a front row seat unwittingly living the inspiration for what became Love Travels, we came across many terms that were alien to each country. It was a source of great amusement and entertainment. That was in a social setting but there are some I wouldn’t want to get wrong. We talked about creating our own version of what so many people have since published to ease relations between the countries.

I liked the one that found me today and reminded me of those fun exchanges; some of which are referred to along the way in Love Travels.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-4226540/63-differences-British-English-revealed.html

It isn’t just the language, it’s also the spellings. American spellings often have fewer characters. For example we say travellers, they say travelers. We say colour, they say color. Have you realised how many words there actually are?

This is a useful list: http://www.tysto.com/uk-us-spelling-list.html

Left me wondering how fewer printer cartridges the US uses simply because they use fewer letters in some common words? I suspect someone could actually measure that.

As someone who has battled through the hidden settings of US English spelling and grammar checkers, I wonder if one day in the future we may decide on a little more agreed commonality… The world seems to strive to make things easier but then there is often resistance to change. Brexit and Trump – say no more.

Text-speak of course took off with a life and language of its own. However that’s the young for you! I love languages, I love differences. And I’ll always have a soft spot for what the US and its ancestors have done with the English language.

 

Did I take a wrong turn in my career? Is a wrong turn ever reversible?

Back between the 1970s-90s I found it relatively straightforward to get employment. I lived in a big city, was young, and had a variety of roles from IT Training to database work. I was a happy bunny at work feeling like I was doing something useful and important; I revelled in meeting new people and sharing my rapidly expanding IT skills I had a smile for everyone. A couple of job roles during my late 20s saw me driving around in brand new company vehicles, although for me, carrying a briefcase was the ultimate status symbol.

At some point this was no longer enough. At some point it didn’t feel like progression and I wanted more – I wanted a role that meant I had to think rather than regurgitate my well-rehearsed performance. I was hankering after a role that made me feel clever as well as important. I worried the need for IT trainers would diminish as the schools were bringing children up to that level – it wasn’t the last time I’d be wrong.

In response to my gut nagging for me to reach for more, in the noughties I started a part-time OU degree (which took me almost a decade to complete). By 2012 I was officially clever – I’d arrived for the second time since buying that briefcase in the late 80s.

From the 2004 – 2009 I worked in a Project Management role and then I did something crazy; and wonder if I’ve been paying for it since. I moved area and took on the project management of a derelict house. My husband and I assumed the roles of bread-winner (he was also our civil engineer) and project manager respectively, until we had a brand-new home and were able to sell the caravan that had been our home for 9 months.

During the time I’d been occupied with builders, plumbers, electricians, planning officers, financial spreadsheets, kitchen fitters and trips to B&Q, a recession had got a grip. I’d emerged excited with my new-found experience to a world that wasn’t interested.

I was lucky on a few occasions to secure some temporary work but I needed to fall back on more generic, basic and transferable skills. I picked up an eclectic mix of non-contiguous, temporary, and usually part-time contracts which left me wondering who on earth I was in terms of an employable entity. My label had fallen off. And the more I did, the more I tried to capture the experiences, the more complex my CV became. Was I diluting my appeal by actually working at all?

I soon realised life in recruitment had changed. No longer could you walk into an agency and be listened to by wide interested eyes as the recruiter had a light bulb moment knowing where they’d place or promote you. No more did the recruiter place you in a temporary role so you could try it for size and be picked up by an impressed manager. Organisations didn’t trust recruiters. Recruiters didn’t trust candidates. Now you had to attend an interview to even become a temp. But the biggest shock was the rates were the same as I earned circa 1987 and often I wasn’t picked, trounced by someone younger! How low could I go?

Soon it was apparent that one size doesn’t always fit all. In my search, the talent of matching skills and experience had been drowned by an automated tick-box exercise. As a candidate who rode the wave of technology in the 80s, I was never out of work. What I was able to offer was in demand. A linear role. All they needed to know was ‘which software’? Now, having added a raft of experience from qualification project management to house renovation, I truly had no idea where I could fit.

So without a pigeon-holed label to guide me, I was left with clicking ‘one click apply’ buttons across a variety of job roles. I was filling up recruiters inboxes when all I’d have loved was a conversation with a talented recruiter who could see what I’m good at and with a human bent to thinking outside the box, understanding what the client  and industry wants and perhaps play more than a game of snap.

Eventually when a long contract came to an end, I made a decision. It was time to write the novel I’d had bouncing around my brain for ages. I sat down and started. It took me months and months, and months. During that time I also tried to become a useful house-person, cooking most evenings for my husband and attempting to look content with the ironing board out during an afternoon watching the Corrie omnibus.  I nearly lost my mind trying to assume two labels and although my husband was adamant I didn’t need to work – I realised I wanted to; for me. How else would I justify my Clinique skincare habit?

Putting one word in front of another, finally in January 2016 I self-published my first novel. I did the writing, editing, formatting, uploading and marketing myself. Approximately 80,000 books are published on Amazon every year. Without good marketing, it doesn’t matter how good you are, chances are your masterpiece will get buried under the others. Yet that is one herculean achievement! And those who’ve read it agree. Love Travels has received some lovely reviews. However, you need to sell an awful lot to make a living from it.

As fate would have it, I need to be looking for work again to support my husband as the company he worked for has unexpectedly gone into administration. We are waiting to see if redundancy and notice payments will appear and in that time, we both have to be job-seeking. I don’t know exactly what I’d like to do because I’d like to do something around the many skills I have that I’m good at and enjoy. Yet writing is pretty much all I’ve known for a few years. I don’t know how to translate my skills into a job role, largely because I’ve not been out in the big wide corporate world for years and don’t know or even understand what is out there. With the expectations of the Job Centre weighing on me, I have to play ball and look for work.

The search feels impossible. The job titles and descriptions that don’t match; the fields that only let you enter what they want to know and don’t allow for explanations. Eg are you prepared to relocate? Y/N and I’m expecting to move house later this year. How do I capture that in Yes or No terms? Job searching people deserve more sophisticated software than a one-size-fits-all approach. A large amount of energy will continue to be wasted (on both sides) and quality candidates will inevitably fall by the wayside without it.

Meanwhile I consider: am I washed up now I’m in my 50s? And with that thought, I will put my author label on again and continue throwing some words into my second novel.

Why I love the Victorians

The Victorian Slum was an emotive series touching those who know little about the era as well as those who know much more about it. As I tweeted at the time, this programme should be on the school curriculum.

I’ve long been fascinated with the Victorian era. For me it is the era where history starts. Anything since the Victorians is just modern day whereas anything before it stands as a Victorian gateway, guiding us yet further into our past.

Queen Victoria died in 1901, just seeing us into the new century. It was the century during which almost everyone I know (older than 16) was born. Somehow that connects us along the production-line known as the human race.

The Victorian Slum was a well-crafted insight on fast-forward across several decades into what life might have been like for the poorer end of society. I initially watched as an observer but got emotionally pulled into the trials of all of the inhabitants of the tenement building. I’d never before considered the connectedness and the intricacies of how one person’s bad luck then might be good luck for another inhabitant. I lived it with them.

And I was particularly outraged for The Victorian Slum-dwellers when the paying wealthy public were permitted to tour the slum homes and gawp at their misfortunes. Yet gawping is something we still do in this day and age at both the wealthy and unfortunate, yet perhaps a little more in the privacy of our own homes – via the internet, television or newspapers.

wp_20161205_11_06_25_pro-1During my lifetime I’ve met real-life Victorians. My maternal great-grandfather (a German – pictured) came to Sheffield, England in 1888 as young teen for a better life. He moved with family down to Birmingham where he married and settled into a new life, marrying in 1897. Sadly he died when I was a young girl in the 1960s and although I can remember him as an elderly gent in a tall Victorian front room sat in front of an open fire, I wonder what the younger man was like. What was going on in the world that made his mother pack him off to relatives in Victoria’s England for a better life when he was so young?

My paternal step-nan was born in 1899. She lived into her 90s into the 1990s. What a world of change she must have seen. She’d have been a toddler in 1901 on Queen Victoria’s demise so, strictly speaking she was a Victorian and we only lost her about 20 years ago. That IS recent history.

Victorian memorabilia surrounds us in abundance of what they’ve left behind – design, industry, architecture, monuments, commercial buildings and houses. Paintings, documents, books, crockery, fashion, events, a way of doing things. We see it, use it, live with it all daily.

This is the first era captured comprehensively by photography to give us clues as to what life might have been for them. The Victorian era can be brought alive by photographs – real pictures taken of our ancestors. Whether it is with formal photographs of rigid looking families all dressed up in their Sunday best or those less formal taken by the very wealthy who owned a camera or news enterprise. I stare in fascination into the faces of those caught on camera, time-travelling and pondering on what they did immediately after breaking their frozen pose. They walked our land.

For me this all adds up and contributes to the feeling the Victorians have only just got up and left our planet. They’ve left so much of themselves for us to ponder on or enjoy.

Life has changed considerably since the black and white world of the Victorians was here. But it’s important that we don’t lose this history nor stop making the connection that most of us touch these ancestors in some way.

Another of my favourites is back – Who Do You Think You Are? Tantalising series pulling us into the depths of someone’s ancestry and mixing in social information of the day. Invariably they transverse the Victorian times, sometimes they stay and explore awhile. Victoria came to the throne in 1837. A census exists from 1841 and every 10 years thereafter facilitating this research.

It’s important to know where we came from if not to stand back in awe at how far we have come and how grateful we should be for the advancements in science, technology, medicine that we are able to take common advantage of today. For the very fact we can sit in the warmth of our centrally heated homes, enjoying a journey into an often uncomfortable past on our flat-screen televisions; sustained by popping to the kitchen cupboards for a high calorie snack or hot drink – the things we take for granted are vast.

December is here. That means Christmas is not far behind it. I love Victorian-influenced pictures on Christmas cards, the kind I rejected first out of the box when I was younger. I savour anything with children, snow and frosted shop windows on it! Perhaps its time I got Charles Dickens out for a reminder of the grim reality of Victorian Britain. Although I can be effortlessly transported via the written word and pictures into a Victorian world, I suspect I only do it so readily because I can decide at the flicker of a few brain cells to return to be living more than a century later where we can decide to luxuriate in and spend time on pleasure, rather than the more immediate business of trying to stay alive…

Migraine – my 500 lost days

I can see, but something is missing. Just like when someone takes a photograph with a flash and you look away but what you see has a hole in it. It’s incomplete. This is usually my first indication an attack is underway. No warning, no build-up, just wham I’m into it. No pattern and anytime of day or night. I can wake and be too far gone to even take medication.

Panic immediately sets in because I know the horror that’s to come. Adrenaline, disappointment, confusion are all there in differing amounts. I might be miles from home, I might be at home or I might be fast asleep and miss this first sign. Quickly I take pain killers. I’m lucky now (post menopause)  because although attacks are frequent, they are less aggressive. I no longer need to navigate self-injecting, which I did for a decade, when adrenaline is pulsing through my veins panicking me even further. The number of times I’ve been in the loos at work and mis-handled the injector pen to see my only potential relief spray up the cubicle door. Then I’m really in trouble and scared. ‘How will I get home?’ ‘How long will it be until I’m in my own bed and able to suffer in the privacy of my own home?’

I’m rarely sick with attacks now (although it does happen in 1 out of 5 attacks) which gives me the opportunity to take a whack of over-the-counter pain killers that can now find their way into my stomach. At least I have a sporting chance of limiting the effects now I no longer am vomiting within 10 minutes of the onset of sight disturbances.

The distress of vomiting migraines is the pits. Not once, then relax and feel better – several times an hour, hour upon hour to the point I can’t kneel any longer and have to have a bucket by my bed. My body retches and there’s nothing there. Why would my body do this to me? And I’ll not even mention the chaos at my other end.

Once the gap in my vision starts to move, I brace myself for the light display. Zig-zag moving and flashing lights start. And what many people don’t know is if you close your eyes they are still there. No escape. As that fades I usually notice parts of my body are going numb. I can’t feel my hand or my leg. Sometimes my whole arm will go numb. It can travel down into my mouth and throat. Once I came running out of the sick room at school into the foyer yelling ‘I can’t breathe!’ to anyone who’d listen. I thought I was dying.

Then the headache… Oh God no – don’t do this to me again. The pain throbs and makes me immediately want to be sick. Once I drove myself home from Milton Keynes after the light show had eased. With a numb arm but able to change gear and armed with a plastic bag and tissues I got on the motorway. I drove for miles to Birmingham and seemed to be able to keep the progression of the attack on hold. That was until about a mile from home when I projectile vomited in the car, down the door and out onto the road as I brought the car to a sudden standstill. I pulled up on the drive, got into the shower and into bed to suffer one of the worst attacks ever. I couldn’t clean up my car until the next day.

Not on every occasion but sometimes I couldn’t co-ordinate my speech. It was worse than being drunk. Grim. Debilitating. I was vulnerable during an attack.

The first attack I had was when I was aged 10. Standing in a queue at school and I couldn’t see. I had no idea what was happening to me. I suffered a headache like no pain I’d ever known and it was only when I started vomiting that school sent me home.

From then on it was a quest to find out what was causing them, how I could prevent them and what to do when an attack happened. Almost 45 years later I’m still doing the same. I’m still experimenting cutting out what I eat, trying to live a de-stressed life and taking the latest preventatives on the market. Yet twice I had a reprieve of almost 4 years. The first time from the week after I took my History O-Level early until I was 19, I didn’t have an attack. During those years I ate copious amounts of chocolate, I discovered alcohol (and boys), I argued with my parents, I became a vegetarian eating lots of cheese, I took many exams, I started work and I passed my driving test. Years of change and stress. No attacks. Great – I was going to get a life after all?

Contrary to that, in my 30s after 12 attacks in a 12 month period, I made a determined effort to address my life holistically. I visited an acupuncturist and I gave up tea, coffee, alcohol and chocolate overnight. I started drinking hot water. I stopped worrying about my weight and I left my job to work freelance. 4 years I managed without an attack. I stopped carrying any drugs with me. Had I finally grown out of them?

When my relationship broke up I met someone new and reintroduced chocolate and wine. It didn’t take long for the stress from my breakup and adding chocolate and wine to my table to bring the migraine monster back home to roost. Cue another 18 years of attacks despite gallant and extended abstention from chocolate and alcohol (I never went back on tea or coffee). It’s completely ruined any idea of a professional career. I’m unreliable. As peri-menopause years arrived the frequency increased – sometimes 5 across a fortnight. Sometimes they only last a couple of hours but the kicker is that when that happens it is more likely to be a pause and a day or so later, it’ll start up again. Day after day sometimes. And a new bit of evil was introduced. Just to max out my suffering, they would visit in the middle of the night and not give me the opportunity to spot the first stages. I also started suffering more confused and disorientated states where I wasn’t always sure what was happening – if that occurred during the night I sometimes couldn’t even find my tablets.

Anything and nothing will set them off. There are contributing factors like irregular sleep patterns or lack of sleep, stress, excitement, anxiety, frustration, toxic foods, low blood-sugar levels, hunger, dehydration, weather patterns, humidity, smells and even talking about attacks brought one on once! But no pattern. And nothing that works conclusively to deal with an attack underway.

I shudder to contemplate the number of days over a life-time I’ve lost through migraine. I’d guestimate about 500-700. Often it is the day after the attack that has to be spent in bed too – absolutely exhausted from the onslaught. I’ve noticed as I’ve hit my 50s that it is taking longer to recover; if in fact I ever do as they are so frequent.

And yet these days I’m grateful. Grateful to have a husband who has got used to the nature of this beast; grateful that over the counter pills and my post-menopause body will often allow me now to completely by-pass the headache stage or reduce the pain; thankful I work part-time now and am home when most attacks occur; grateful to the Migraine research that continues – PLEASE I don’t want to eventually be an old-lady who can’t communicate what is happening to me. That is my biggest fear…