February-May 2013

This last day of May saw me score my best-ever round of golf – a 77 on the Cate-Irwin Back combination at my home club, the Members at St. James. It is not the most demanding of courses: about 5800 yards off the white tees, but it has plenty of hazards and pitfalls in the form of water and sand, many of which I normally encounter, and the greens are notoriously tricky and grainy. I scored nine pars, two birdies, and seven bogeys. As with many outstanding rounds (so I am told), it could have been so much better. I three-putted four greens, missed a two-foot putt for par on Number 4, and a curling five-footer for birdie on the last hole. When I attempted to enter my score on the on-line system, it was rejected at first for being ‘out of my normal range’. Indeed.    (Just the regular Commonplace updates this month.)                                                  (May 31, 2013)

The results from my DNA testing were disappointing – not because of my shameful Denisovan ancestors, but because they didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know already. It turns out that I am 45% Northern European, 38% Mediterranean, and 17% South-West Asian. (That last bit probably comes from the Neolithic expansion, perhaps from the Eastern part of the Fertile Crescent.) But guess what? That pattern almost exactly matches the mixture predominantly found in – the United Kingdom! So British is my first reference population, and the second is German. (That can be traced to Luke Blumer, who came over to Hull a couple of centuries ago.) I am 1.9% Neanderthal, and 1.5% Denisovan. And that’s it. Of course, National Geographic now wants me to provide information about my family tree, so they can refine their work, but I have other fish to fry. For anyone who knows a lot about their immediate ancestors, I wouldn’t recommend this test. It is quite expensive, and won’t tell you much.

By a strange coincidence, just as I was about to post this text, I read in today’s New York Times an article about cannibalism in 1609 in colonial Williamsburg. The piece quoted a letter written in 1625 by George Percy, president of Jamestown during the starvation period, confirming that incredible things were done, ‘as to digge upp deade corpes out of graves and to eate them’. The article reported that recent analysis of the skull of a 14-year-old girl gave evidence that she had been used as food after her death and burial. It went on to say that ‘the ration of oxygen in her bones indicated that she had grown up in the southern coastal regions of England, and the carbon isotopes pointed to a diet that included English rye and barley.’

[Since I have just returned from a week’s holiday/vacation in Vero Beach, Florida, I shall be not be posting new Commonplace entries for a few days. (Done on May 5.)]                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          (May 2, 2013)

Since posting the Reflections piece last month, I have read Nina Berberova’s biography of Moura Budberg. She claims that the young lady with whom Robert Bruce Lockhart had  a dalliance with in St. Petersburg was an actress, and not Moura Budberg, whom he met later. I have thus amended my story. This may not have been the most exciting discovery of the month, but it should be recorded. Again, I have posted a new set of Commonplace entries that show that my reading focus of late has been very intently on espionage and political matters around World War II.  And at the exact moment when I was composing this sentence, I received an email telling me that the results of my DNA analysis from the Genographic Project were available. I’ll report on this fully next month.      (March 31, 2013)

This month I was going to post a reminiscent anecdote about a visit back to England last year, but it developed into something a bit too long for this column, so I made it into a separate article: ‘ReflectionsOnTheNorthDowns‘. The analysis of my DNA sample is meanwhile proceeding on schedule. The usual Commonplace updates.  (February 28, 2013)

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