Writing

If Travel Broadens The Mind…

By Warwick Cairns

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. Adds perspective. Opens up the outlook and so on. Makes you sophisticated and cosmopolitan. If you’ve been nowhere other than where you’re from, except on holiday; if you’ve lived in no place other than the place you know, what does that make you? What is the word for it?

I mention this for a number of reasons, and for a number of people.

My wife is one.

A man called Adrian Targett is another.

And it turns out that I’m one, too, although I must say that this surprised me.

There was the lady who reeled off a great long list of cities she’d lived in, and countries, and then, holding the stem of her wineglass between her forefinger and thumb she asked my wife where she’d lived in her time.

“Windsor.” She replied

“And before that?”

“Still Windsor.”

The lady took a sip of her wine.

“Well,” she said, “I don’t know whether that’s sweet or sad.”

And all the while she was scanning the room, looking for someone more interesting to talk to.

Back in 1903 a skeleton was excavated from a place called Gough’s Cave, in Cheddar Gorge, in the county of Somerset.

They gave it a name, this skeleton ‘Cheddar Man,’ they called it. Then they packed it up in a box and sent it off to the Natural History Museum. It sat in a store-room on a shelf there for the next 93 years. Then one day an Oxford University professor by the name of Brian Sykes took a sample from one of the skeleton’s teeth, and from another tooth found in the cave, and carbon-dated them and analysed their DNA. The skeleton’s tooth, it turned out, was 9,000 years old; the other tooth 12,000 years old.

He managed to get good DNA samples from both teeth; and armed with the analysis he went half a mile down the road from Gough’s Cave to the nearest village, and asked for volunteers to give DNA samples for comparison. Astonishingly, he found 2 perfect matches and one almost-complete match with just one single mutation. The 2 perfect matches were primary-school children who weren’t named. The almost-perfect match was Adrian Targett, a teacher.

Not only had Targett not moved from the village of his birth: none of his direct lineal ancestors had, either, never having gone anywhere at all or, as far as anyone knows, done anything at all other than be where they were throughout all of recorded history and all prehistory since at least the end of the last ice age. This would have been just after the woolly mammoths departed.

But of course this was in Somerset. You expect things like that there. They’re quite fond of their cousins, too, as I understand it.

But elsewhere it’s different.

Or so you might think.

Me, I’m the author of a travel book. A bit sophisticated, if you know what I mean. A bit cosmopolitan.

So when I sent off a sample of my DNA to Prof. Sykes’s laboratories, you can imagine the sort of result someone like me would get.

Exactly. My ancestors haven’t been anywhere either.

In common with over 64% of all English men; in common with 83% of Welshmen; in common with almost 100% of all men from the far West of Ireland, in common with the vast majority of the Scots, my paternal y-chromosome genes are those of the original pre-Roman, pre-Saxon inhabitants of the British Isles.

My lot came here some time in the Stone Age, in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, and just stayed. We’ve been here ever since.

So to the sophisticated cosmopolitan lady with the wineglass I have just one thing to say: get orf moi land!

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