Dr Julie Carter



Homeward bound - Jenny Power

You can tell by the way I dedicate myself to sartorial elegance, always having perfect hair and makeup, and carefully chosen matching outfits – I must have style in my genes. It’s true that my grandfather was a hairdresser, as was my great-grandfather and my great- great-grandfather. And who knows how much further back. What I did not know until relatively recently is that the middle of these grandfathers, Jack Nowell, founded Gateshead Harries in 1904. This knowledge came as a shock to me and forced me reconsider my background - maybe there was some good in it? And one day I had the idea that I must run to Gateshead to pay homage to Jack Nowell. But it was one of those ideas that is like poem, you don’t really have it - it has you.

                               On Sunday 13th September, the day of the 40th Great North Run, I set off. I ran from home via the old coach road under Clough Head, over Gowbarrow Fell, Askham Fell and on, and on… over the Eden valley, a night in the van, then over High cup nick, the Teesdale and Weardale moors, another night in the van, then on to Gateshead Stadium. A difficult and beautiful ninety-four-mile run. I got charged by a bull, electrocuted, severely stung and very tired. There were wonderful things too; the loneliness of Pennine mist, the wildness of the Weardale moors, the conversations of grouse, my friend’s birthday party in our van half way along, and a sunrise I will never forget. Two of the Harriers met me to run the final mile and a lap of the famous Gateshead track and at the finish were Gateshead Harrier’s Olympians Angela Gilmore and Brendan Foster. We had some great craic. Brendan said all the fellrunners he knew always had terrible trouble buying trousers because of big thighs – not sure what he was implying there! I wore their vest with pride and no conflict with my Keswick loyalty, only it was a bit mucky after three hot days but then Brendan and Angela both signed it so it can never get washed.

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Jack Nowell was a man of meagre means, in a TB ridden community, who founded a wonderful club and saw it through a world war, a pandemic, and great depression. Gatehead Harriers continues to nuture young athletes, and through his Great North Run, Brendan has helped to catalyse running into a movement which enhances the lives of millions of people. It turns out my ancestors have plenty in the way of lessons for me. It’s a lot to try and live up to but I have made a start by getting a haircut.

A wise man (his name is Lewis Mehl-Madrona) told me that ancestors have lessons for us but that we must choose the right ones.

“But what if we don’t like our ancestors?”

“Then choose a different one. We all have so many to choose from”.

Modern anthropology and genetics have turned up some surprising information as documented by Carl Zimmer. He writes with the authority of very well researched evidence that “Everyone who was alive five thousand years ago who has living descendants is an ancestor of everyone alive today.” That is in the world, for European lineages we only have to go back one thousand years before we are all related. I’m lucky. Jack Nowell was my great grandfather. And he’s the ancestor I’m choosing to pay attention to.

When it comes to parents, notoriously, things can be a bit trickier. The meeting of our real-life needs depends, at least for a time, on them. Until there comes a point where, in spite of their success or failure we can choose how to gain fulfilment – in our own unique way. And we also perhaps start thinking about what we ourselves want to pass on to our own family. Which is perhaps larger than we think?


My Birthday

I was born in Sunderland on the 10th April 1964

In the early hours of the morning before dawn.

“What did you get for your birthday?”

I got colouring crayons and Lego,

a doll and a pink teddy.

I got new shoes, a coat,

a jumper I did not like.

I always asked for books,

but nobody gave me books.

“What did you get for your birthday?”

One year I got an Easter egg

with chocolates inside and I tried

my very, very best to make it last.

“What did you get for your birthday?”

I got nightmares and waking terror,

I got a clout round the head,

I got drunk on my brother’s home brewed beer,

I got a ringside seat at a soap opera

where a man fucked his unwilling wife

and fucked our lives.

“What did you get for your birthday?”

I got fear, cold and constant

I got secrets I could not keep.

I always asked for a puppy

but nobody gave me a puppy.

“What did you get for Birthday?”

I got blood, and bones, and breath,

I got legs that can run fast,

I got eyes that I can keep open

and look, and see, and wonder.

“Then what did you get for your birthday?”

I got the choice to speak or be silent.

The choice to listen and hear uncomfortable truths.

The choice to breathe or hold it,

the choice freeze, or fight, or fly.

I got the choice to imagine

I got the choice to trust myself.

The choice to try and love you.

“What did you get for your birthday?”

I got choices.

It was a hell of a present.