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!





Father’s Day 2015

21 06 2015

Father’s Day is one of those pseudo “holidays” created by card manufacturers (and more recently – as in the case of Pi Day – internet foibles) rather than being steeped in tradition and history. You know – like my birthday.

I have the honour of listing myself amongst those males of the species who can call themselves “father”. As well as the biological act of becoming a father there’s also the on-going relationship with one’s offspring – or even a child who is not biologically yours. This is by no means a pre-defined relationship and can be healthy and strong with step-father, foster parents etc., and conversely toxic and destructive with biological parents. Fathers don’t have the market cornered for either extreme of experience, by any means – though they do tend to have the ability to make bad parenting experiences very bad.

As my own children have matured into young adults I have observed with not a little trepidation as they transfer their decision making from the childhood surety of “mum/dad said…” to the less definite, but ultimately more useful “my own accumulated experience would indicate…”. Of course they unnecessarily re-discover some of the same mistakes we did at that age, as well as dealing with whole new decisions that simply didn’t exist a generation ago (like “Should I sell my soul to iOS or Android?”). Hard though it is to see a loved one make a mistake you could have helped them avoid, it’s definitely a lesson more fully absorbed when the cause and effect are directly experienced rather than simply discussed.

Being a bit of a stick in the mud myself, I’m not big on cards and presents for birthdays and the like. I didn’t really mind at all then that offspring No. 1 simply sent a one-liner via SMS to at least acknowledge I had a small contribution to her DNA. No. 3 offspring, my son, has asked if he can take me for dinner tonight – just him and I. Though I’m slightly nervous that he might be wanting to inform me of some unplanned life event or personal discovery, the calmer part of me is trying to accept it as simply his way of sharing the day. No. 2 offspring – the artistic one – created a small card for me, and presented it as I descended for breakfast, along with a yummy-looking Okanagan “port-style” bottle of wine from Black Sage vineyard.

Black Sage 2008 “Pipe” port-style wine

The image she chose to use for the card was from a back-issue of my BBC History magazine. It shows a medieval soldier doing battle with some sea-going monster. Odd choice, I thought, until I read the back of the card:

The great battle of 2015 when father slayed none other than the toilet clogging sea-ogress.

Demise of the toilet clogging sea-ogress

Demise of the toilet clogging sea-ogress

Leaving aside for a moment the slew/slayed debate, I feel I should explain the reference…

Several weeks ago the toilet in the “children’s bathroom” had begun to misbehave. It would flush – in the sense that the water (and some proportion of other items therein) would leave the premises via the usual method of the sewage pipe. However, it did not flush with the same amount of gusto we had become accustomed to, and would often leave unsavoury reminders of recent interactions with said toilet. Being a family born in the UK, this was embarrassing to the point of pain.

My own stance was along the lines of “one of you lot blocked it – you sort it out” for several weeks. This is an easy stance to adopt when you have access to an unaffected en suite and there’s an additional 3rd. toilet in the house as well.

No. 2 offspring though is a delicate soul and of the opinion that men should offer women 100% equivalence… except where unblocking toilets is concerned, where she’s quite happy for sexism to endure. No. 3 offspring is of a practical nature and simply moved his business elsewhere. As it were.

Eventually though, the persistent calls to address the issue got to a stage where I took it upon myself to handle things once and for all. I began by canvassing family members for suggestions, but not being in possession of the requisite paperwork to obtain dynamite, I looked to my fellow citizens at Home Depot for potentially more practical advice.

Now, it must be said that these types of toilet blockage are a by-product (sorry!) of North American design, that require the “soil pipe” to exit the toilet downwards, instead of sideways as is common in the UK. This means that the water – plus anything it may be transporting – must negotiate a full tight curve both laterally and vertically. Since this obviously increases the chance of blockages, there is an associated line of products designed to assist with that very situation… and help with the economy.

So, $40 later, I was in possession of an instrument of torture which could double for the task of freeing up the blockage. After weeks of grief, one might say that restrictions were lifted, and free passage was once more possible. This seemed to be a disproportionately big deal to No. 2 offspring – as commemorated in my Father’s Day card.

Over the years I have accumulated many tools “just in case” or because a given problem is generally just so much less trouble if you’ve got the right tool for the job. I can honestly say that I really really hope I never have to use this particular tool again, but if I do… I will still be glad I have it. The alternatives are just too gnarly for a Brit to consider.

Home Depot: RIGID K3 3′ Toilet Auger

Over the last week, CBC has been running a competition for the best example of “what my dad taught me” during my morning commute. Whilst No. 2 offspring is on break from McGill, she’s got a summer job with the local museum and I’ve been giving her a lift to work. I jokingly asked what she’d learnt from me. With an inscrutable face, she looked at me and said “how to swear eloquently at other drivers”. Though admittedly not an entirely worthless skill, I admit to feeling I’d perhaps fallen somewhat short of the mark in the parenting stakes.

Imagine then my pleasure at reading the last clause of the note she had put inside her card to me today:

Happy father’s day to the best daddy ever!

Thank you for driving me to work, fixing the toilet, being my garden partner and for encouraging me to be the best I can.

It was, I think you’ll understand, a near tear-jerking moment for me. I’ve always considered my success – and indeed, failure – as a parent as being measured solely by how effectively I have helped prepare the children for their own lives. I am but one influence amongst many and as they grow, that influence inevitably recedes into the background.

To be the best you can be is all anyone could ever ask of anybody. It’s not a religious stance. It’s possibly not even a moral one. Only you know what your best is. To perceive that that is something to aim for is a keen weapon to have along  for life’s journey – helping to assess each of the decisions that life will place in front of you.

I feel honoured that my beautiful daughter feels that this insight was some form of gift, and that it has benefited her in some small way.

Don’t get me wrong – I am immensely proud of all three of my children. This little essay was simply inspired by the small actions of one of them on one day. As “the middle one”, I felt it was about time she got her own little acknowledgement and tonight I will toast all three of them with a small extravagant glass of almost-port from the Okanagan and thank Darwin’s memory for allowing me to take some small satisfaction in all their future successes.





And who are you again?

29 09 2012

[Heavy Introspection Warning – lower humour quotient than usual. You have been warned!]

At first sight, the recent studies by Canadian scientists that male DNA can persist in female brains seems to be rich pickings for jokes of the “get out of my head”, “you’re always on my mind” kind.

Vancouver Sun – Male DNA found for first time in female brains.

There are a few theoretical ways a woman can absorb male DNA – from a male child, a male twin, even potentially an older male sibling via their mother’s womb (It’s rarely disputed that males are bad at clearing up after themselves – maybe it starts pre-birth!). The study also hints at a potential link to Alzheimer’s disease resistance.

But the interesting thing for me is the implications of “self”. Now I’ve never studied biology, psychology, or as the old BT advert with Maureen Lipman would say: any other “ology”. But even I know that we actually exist in what we blithely refer to as our mind – basically the software running in our brain. Now what this study shows is that the hardware itself – the brain – can have elements in it that are not even originally from our own body. Not just chemical, like a drug say, which is affecting how our own brain is functioning. No this is actually bits from ANOTHER body.  The study was limited, in that it was looking for male DNA in women because that was easier to spot than the DNA of their own daughter, but it’s a profound piece of data. This is different to our DNA being the result of our parents’ DNA being diced and spliced. This is separate DNA alongside that recipe we used to think of as “me”.

Not only can we change through the influence of new experiences, emotions and “data” for our mind, but perhaps the very hardware we’re running on is changing underneath us. Influencing the way we process that information.

This leads me to another discussion I recently had. One I’ve had a few times actually, about what we really are. I have this total fear of waking up completely paralysed and unable to communicate in any way. Being totally conscious and being able to sense and process my surroundings, but in no way being able to communicate with it. It frightens me. Mainly I think because I measure my worth as somehow being how I relate to other people. The implication therefore is that without being able to contribute my own thoughts, I become worthless, despite being totally cognisant and able to still generate novel thought and ideas. Would there be someone “out there”, outside my mind that would still value me? Somehow still be able to connect with me. Would I want to continue with no way of expressing myself to others? Yes – my mind has some dark little places in it. I rarely open those doors, but it’s dangerous to let things go too long without facing them.

So then if we take a less extreme situation and talk about mind-changing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, or even just getting old generally, we see the situation where one is still interacting with the world, but perhaps in a different way to what you used to. So are you still, well, you? Arguably a different you (not meaning to prescribe any relative value here – just a different you). It’s easier for someone who never knew the previous you to accept you as you are now, but this can be a really tough transition for family and friends that have seen the differences and can contrast them and inherently place a judgement of better/worse versions.

And this makes me wonder why. Every birthday marks off another year lived. Survived. Trains, cars and rock falls avoided. But also another year of experiences absorbed and processed. These experiences change us. We may see new perspectives, feel different emotions. Many things. Perhaps we know of people who didn’t survive that year, or just barely – that impacts us too. So are we tangibly different people? If so, it’s not just an annual occurrence. We change by the day, hour, second.

And in the end, does it matter?

I think so. I think we should spend a little while every now and then and just look around. Smile at a stranger. There is only now. In a moment you’ll be a different person.





Clive’s going Jurassic with DNA | Offbeat | Weird News, Odd and Freaky Stories in Sunshine Coast | Sunshine Coast Daily

4 08 2012

Now wait. Let me just check… nope, it’s not April 1st.

There’s definitely a growing trend of things being done “just because they can” these days. Worrying, no? Has the “common sense” gene been bred out of us or what?!

Clive’s going Jurassic with DNA | Offbeat | Weird News, Odd and Freaky Stories in Sunshine Coast | Sunshine Coast Daily.

Clive's going Jurassic with DNA | Offbeat | Weird News, Odd and Freaky Stories in Sunshine Coast | Sunshine Coast Daily