Of Blood, Dutch Bulbs and Market Gardening

11 04 2021

Funny old day. More co-incidences (which a little like with Vinyl Café‘s Stuart McLean, is really just an excuse for stringing scenes into a loosely coherent whole).

A couple of days ago I got an email from 23 and Me, which is often an amusing read. As their data volume increases and the statistical treatment and research gets more refined, the statements made about my DNA make-up slightly change over the years. Of course, it’s all massively skewed by the fact that most of their customers are from the US, though they do include other databases of DNA traits, and continually sponsor and include other analysis and research.

Over the years that they’ve had my spit to analyse, the percentage of my DNA has gradually become less British and more “French/German”. I think I’m up to 15% or so non-British now, and drilling down, they’re confident enough to say it’s a specifically French 15%, though they’re reluctant to specify it closer to one wine region or another.

I actually enjoy the thought that by sitting at home enjoying well-priced French varietals grown in our own Okanagan region my blood is gradually becoming more French. I’m sure my good friends from France, Olive’s parents, would be horrified to think one might become more French so easily. About the same as my dear departed pater would be that one could lose one’s Britishness so easily. (Though he’d possibly argue that Britishness is already a loss of Englishness).

Of course, nothing in my DNA has really changed (plus or minus damage from cosmic waves), but the data relating to its make-up and the origin of the various bits of it (technical term) has gradually become more refined. One of the things reported on is when those non-British elements might have entered the ancestral, er, bedroom.

According to the company then, my genetic heredity looks something like this…

Source: 23 and Me – Mixing of Cultures and Bodily Fluids

Neither of my parents have had their DNA tested, so I can’t speak with much certainty about how French, and even more surprisingly, Levantine genes entered my hitherto apparently parochial Yorkshire bloodline. Indeed, I thought my dear departed Nana was exotic when I discovered she was from Lancashire!

To be fair though, my mum’s maiden name is French-sounding, so I suspected the solution to at least the French question might lie in that direction.

It being a slow Sunday morning then, I called the UK to have a chat with the mater and see how things were faring back in God’s Own County. Snow, it seems. Somewhat ironic as I spoke to her from a sun-bathed, warm BC in “the great white North”! I was quite surprised that she knew next to nothing of her own family history or grandparents, let alone further back. She believed her dad was originally from London, but that was about it. (I vaguely remembered a conversation where he mentioned Leatherhead actually, but to most Yorkshire folk that’s just London as it’s south of Watford Gap and maps get vague there. “There be dragons”, etc…).

More coincidence/irony – Leatherhead’s as close to Guildford as I am to BC’s own Guildford in our own Surrey. (Colonists are rarely very imaginative with place naming).

With that line of investigation brought to a screaming halt, the conversation wandered around the usual filial subjects, including COVID, vaccinations, Brexit (actually – no, not this time), how I manage to spend so much money on cameras and pens, and gardening.

As I was chatting on FaceTime, I gazed out of the French window (coincidence?) and noted to mum that one of the tulips the local squirrels had spared this season looked to be only a few days away from blooming. We seem to get fewer every year, and I’m sure the little buggers chow down on them when I’m not looking. Sadly, Spiketta the Devil Dog has recently gone to the great kennel in the sky, so now they don’t even have her pedestrian chasing to contend with.

Spiketta – sadly no longer with us, along with the Canadian pennies on the bench

The mater related how on a trip to The Netherlands the parental units had bought lots of fancy tulip bulbs, but many of them had reverted to boring red after their first showing. Personally, I’m always grateful when my very basic horticultural ministrations result in an actual flower, no matter the colour!

Suitably reassured that mum was in as fine a fettle as usual, I briefly sat in on the conversation Mrs. E had been simultaneously having with Middle Offspring – currently studying in Den Haag. Since her grandma was about to celebrate her 80th circuit around the sun, I suggested perhaps some fancy tulip bulbs might be suitable, since Second Born had herself mentioned a desire to visit the tulip fields this Spring anyway. Nothing more socially distanced than standing in a field I’d have thought, but I suppose it gets popular this time of year. (Not a lot to see, the rest of the time!)

All this talk of tulips had reminded me of the hardships the Dutch had faced under occupation, late in the war – to the extent that they’d been forced to eat tulip bulbs. There had been a post D-Day plan to bring the war to a quick end by the Allies launching the largest airborne assault in history, in an attempt to capture the bridges over the Rhine in The Netherlands and liberate it.

The bridges in and around Arnhem were the target, and Operation Market Garden turned out to be one of the most ill planned operations of the war, with vast numbers of allied airborne troops being slaughtered and cut off due to poor support and intelligence. My grandfather was a survivor of the operation, and this was one of the points in history that helped us do a little genealogical sleuthing. Via Wikipedia, I discovered that his unit – 11th Parachute Regiment, 1st Division was actually formed in 1943 in Egypt, and I remember him telling me about his time in Alexandria, so that fit too.

I once had a business trip to Sicily and remarked to him of the bullet-holes I’d seen in the Palermo courthouse and my assumption it was from the Mafia. He divulged that he had actually fought in Palermo during the war and with a glint in his eye that perhaps the holes were even of his own doing. He didn’t voluntarily speak of his wartime experiences, but small remarks like this hinted at quite the trove of stories he might have told, were he inclined to do so. I was previously unaware he’d ever been to Italy, though have since learnt that airborne troops had extensive involvement though mixed success in the early assaults on Italy.

And so we came full circle. I found hints that his own father may have been in the army too. That he was probably born in Norfolk rather than London. We discovered things on my father’s side too, and Mrs. E’s – including a dark and terrifying Lancastrian connection! No hint of Asterix or indeed any other Gallic connection though, let alone a connection with the Levant.

Oh well – the Internet, like 23 and Me, is continually increasing the access to historical and research records. Who knows, one day I may even discover I’m related to the Syrian refugee family I helped a few years ago!


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