Adam Bird

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Monday, 27 October 2008

Not Alone in the Forest

Forest

"Exactly 100 years ago today, HMS Alert and HMS Discovery sailed past Plymouth on their way from Portsmouth on an Arctic exploration mission which was to keep their crews away from home for nearly a year and five months.

One of the members of this expedition, led by Captain Sir George Strong Nares, was a Newton Abbot man, Mr Henry Winser, who was picked as ship's carpenter for the team at the age of 24 because of his strong constitution.

The expedition suffered many hardships and accomplished much, reaching 30 miles nearer the North Pole than any previous arctic explorers, but still fell 400 miles short of its target.

The "Advertiser" of November 4th, 1876, summed up that the venture had demonstrated "that to reach the Pole is an utterly impracticable undertaking... deemed not to be accomplished by human energy."

Henry Winser was believed to have been one of the sledge party which spent 70 days on the ice in conditions so rugged that it could only advance only a mile a day towards its goal, the North Pole.

The Party suffered intensely from frost-bite and scurvy, to which four of his team-mates succumbed.

When a bear suddenly sprung at one of the men, Henry Winser with quick reactions, instantly killed the animal before it could injure his colleagues.

On his return to Newton Abbot, one of the many trophies which Henry Winser brought with him was a bearskin - believed to have been this bear's and in later years residents recalled that he used to walk through the streets dressed in the bearskin."

The above was an extract from a newspaper article written in 1974, the subject, Henry Winser, was my second Great Grandfather.

Stories like these have been part of family lore for as long as I can remember. I first read this newspaper article back in the early 90's on a visit to my Great Uncle George's house in Newton Abbot. At the time, it seemed a bit far fetched and the significance, well it didn't register very highly.

In 2004 we had a visit from Australia, a lady named Jennifer Keast came and visited my Nan. She brought with her a gift, a research documenting our family tree. Jennifer Keast, as it turns out is my second cousin, once removed.

For some reason it was only last week in which I was able to read the full document and inside it, were details of family members reaching way back into the early 1600's. As well as a full list of facts and figures was a recollection, small stories about the people contained within the lists and where they had come from, it began:

"John Blackstone is recorded as having married an Anne at Tormoham, Torre - Torquay in 1650. Torre was a small village built around an abbey that had been founded in 1196 and rebuilt in 1555. The occupation and actual residence of this John is not known but it is most likely that he was a fisherman of Teignmouth who traded with or delivered goods to the abbey. It is possible that he took the goods produced by the abbey, raw wool and cider, to the continent and returned with wine, cloth and luxury foods such as olives, oil and fruit. Sailing to France or Holland was fairly risky at this time as piracy, both officially sanctioned by the throne and by boat owners trying to make ends meet, was very common."

John Blackstone, as it transpires is my 9th Great Grandfather.

Continuing on through the recollections, and the people contained within and the lives in which they led make interesting and intriguing reading. Members of the family who became judges at Crufts, or worked within the walls of Buckingham Palace. How a certain Francis Allchin, known as "Nibbs" for being a 'player' when he visited Devon coming down from London in a Daimler and ending up marrying an American heiress, and living out his days on the proceeds of her estate.

Stories which are true and need to be recorded, not for any historical importance, but the continuation of the family tale. When Oliver asks me, where did George, my middle name come from? I can say, your Grandfather, a naval man who was born in Hastings in 1922, he was one of nine and he sailed the world and drank whisky in every port. He had an uncle named George as well, and there has been at least one George in every generation since way back when.

I have found much and yet covered very little, I have made connections with other descendants from different branches, the Uglows, the Tripletts, the Allchins, the Winsers, the Symons, the Furneauxs, the Kinsmen, and they are just the people on my Dad's Mother's side! I still need to add the Birds, the Simmonds, the Buckmaster's the Kent's and the Arthurs and whatever other names I manage to uncover.

And yet, from what Jennifer Keast started I have managed to continue, adding more names and people, places, records of births, deaths and marriages. My Geni account currently states, you have 390 blood relatives, 103 inlaws, 29 inlaw trees, 68 ancestors and 1 descendant. You are also connected to 1, 182 people on Geni.

Genealogy is not about the ghosts in the closet, it is a recording of people, their relationships and their movements. Looking back at our ancestors is incredible rewarding and unbelievable frustrating. For every dead end there is surprising story, like the brother of distant grandmother whom married four times, to four wives all going by the name of Elizabeth. The notes written by the person researching this particular chap wrote "It appears as if Richard Triplett was a serial killer whom married women going by the name Elizabeth only to kill them".

There are of course many stories which go untold, and in which you can read just by looking at the figures. A couple whom had five girls before they finally managed to conceive a boy. He carried his father's name, and yet six months later he died. His uncle born a son the following year and named his son after his deceased nephew.

As I keep travelling on this journey back through time and make many more new discoveries I hope to share as much as I can within the walls of this blog and revamp the family page to include a little more than just the photos of my nearest and dearest. As Geni, the website I use to join all the branches says - "We are all connected". My family tree may seem a little more like a forest, but at least I am not alone.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

More than A Simple Act of Violence

Washington DC

Earlier this year I wrote about a book I had read, A Quiet Belief in Angels, by Roger Ellory and how, since then, I had purchased all his previous works and had been enchanted by the epic worlds his creations had surrounded me. Last week his sixth book, A Simple Act of Violence was released and I eagerly visited Waterstones to get my copy.

Roger Ellory doesn't write simple novels. They are vast in scope and character and although they share a similar theme, human nature, human relationships and the analysis of human behaviour against all odds, they are all vastly different.

The synopsis for A Simple Act of Violence, provided by Amazon:

"Washington, embroiled in the mid-term elections, did not want to hear about serial killings. But when the newspapers reported a fourth murder, when they gave the killer a name and details of his horrendous crimes, there were few people that could ignore it. Detective Robert Miller is assigned to the case. He and his partner begin the task of correlating and cross-referencing the details of each crime scene. Rapidly things begin to complicate. The victims do not officially exist. Their personal details do not register on any known systems. The harder Miller works, the less it makes sense. And as Miller unearths ever more disturbing facts, he starts to face truths so far-removed from his own reality that he begins to fear for his life. This is a novel about trust, loyalty, and beliefs that are so ingrained which, when challenged, they leave people with nothing. Vast in scope, A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE is an expose of the brutality of covert operations, the power of greed and the insidious nature of corruption. It is also a story of love and trust that somehow managed to survive the very worst that the world could throw at it."
A thriller novel, normally formulaic with the classic question of "Who did it?" concluding with a twist and the grand unveiling of the perpetrator by the novels chief protagonist. A Simple Act of Violence couldn't be further from the norm, and instead of "Who", we are as readers, left with an elusive answer to the question "Why?"

I don't particularly want to go too much into the "why", as I wouldn't want to spoil any potential readers journey of discovery, but I was left intrigued... Indeed I will, one night soon, be spending an evening with Google looking back at some of the events mentioned within the novel and gaining a further understanding of some of the historical context in which the book's foundations are built upon.

It must be remembered that this is a work of fiction, and the author has once again provided us with a story based upon fictitious characters, based upon selective real events in history and there is indeed nothing to suggest otherwise.

However, there is no smoke without fire and call it what you will, a conspiracy theory, or the revelation of fact, this novel isn't about the murder of a group of people, it is about human history and how effectively we are all puppets upon strings and those in power act as our puppet masters, often with catastrophic effects.

Ultimately, the beauty of a good novel often lays after you have closed the back cover and you have finished the journey the author wished to take you upon. It lingers, stays in the mind and leaves you asking questions, or leaves you wanting more.

Normally I finish a book on the way home from work and start afresh with a new one the following night. I finished A Simple Act of Violence on Wednesday and haven't yet been able to pick up a new book and get past the first page.

A Quiet Belief in Angels left me dreamy and longing to visit a place that only existed in one man's mind. A Quiet Vendetta, my personal favourite left me missing someone who I felt was a long lost friend, whom I wanted too write to and invite around the house to reminisce about days gone by.

With A Simple Act of Violence I was left wondering about us, as people. It may just be coincidence with the current state of world affairs, and how the fact that we can spend our days working hard and yet our fates lie within the hands of bankers and politicians. Do we really hold our destiny in our own hands, and if not, what can we really do about it?

If drawing a response from your audience is the benchmark in which an author wishes to be judged, then Ellory is guilty as charged in this particular case. Don't take my word for it, there are plenty of people available on Amazon whom have also felt compelled to write glowing praise for a supremely talented author.

Amazon Links:

Thursday, 2 October 2008

The Beginning of a New Era

Champagne

In amongst the confetti and champagne that has flowed freely over the past two years, and looks set to continue at least until our own marriage in 2010, Saturday night marks the dawn of a new era. Mummy of the group Stephanie hits the big three-0.

Although her birthday isn't until the 13th of October, current times amidst the credit crunch and close proximity in dates to sister in law Nadine and her best friend Kelly, both of which also hit the special landmark around the same time, sees a triple celebration as the three glam girls mark the occasion with a party to end all parties.

I have a fear of hitting 30, due mostly to my own memories of when Dad celebrated his. A surprise BBQ at the house arranged by mum was not at all welcomed as Dad spent the whole day in a birthday depression rather than buoyant celebration. Being an impressionable eleven year old at the time wondering what on earth was so terrible about being 30. Was that the age that in which terrible thing began to happen like when you were 14 and supposed to come out in spots, or 16 and you had to leave home and get a job?

As is, thirty is an age to celebrate, you have survived the difficulties and life defining moments that make you who you are. You can look back with fondness at the mistakes you have made and realise that yes, you have made them, but so has everyone else and more than likely the next time you won't make them again. The friendships you have are for life and not just for current school term or holiday period. You have a young family or or planning to start one soon, or in some cases, you are married, or about to set of on a life together with that special person. In short, hitting 30 is a marking of a rebirth, except this time, you know who you are and where you are going.

With Stephanie being the mother hen of our little group, she has the privilege of experiencing this first, with Carly to come next year and most of us boys in my own defining year, 2010.

I would like to wish both Kelly and Nadine all the best birthday wishes, and of course, Stephanie whom a double extra super special treble congratulations goes to her! If you are coming on Saturday evening at the Old Gravesendians Rugby Club, bring your dancing shoes and champagne corks as we celebrate three great girls becoming three fine ladies.
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