Adult learner

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents - Coco Khan

Les­son 45: my fam­ily tree

I ro­man­ti­cise my boyfriend’s West Coun­try up­bring­ing. It wasn’t all straight out of Enid Bly­ton (I’m fairly cer­tain the Fa­mous Five didn’t com­pet­i­tively eat pasties and get tanked up on scrumpy out of bore­dom) but, com­pared with my city child­hood, it sounds idyl­lic.

It helps that his fam­ily are in­fec­tiously proud of the south­west. Es­pe­cially his dad – let’s call him Keith – who has been chart­ing their kin. So far, he’s tracked nine gen­er­a­tions, all of them from the Devon area. Yet Keith is con­vinced of “Moor­ish” blood in their lin­eage, pic­tur­ing swarthy sailors ma­raud­ing the coast. “Look at this tan,” he’ll say, point­ing con­spir­a­to­ri­ally at his arm. “Only 20 min­utes of sun, that is.”

Ev­ery fam­ily has a myth. In mine, it was that we’re de­scen­dants of Genghis Khan, an as­ser­tion that means noth­ing to me ex­cept when I’m hun­grily maul­ing a ro­tis­serie chicken in the su­per­mar­ket car park. None of us re­ally cared about our ge­neal­ogy. We couldn’t: too many painful fam­ily frac­tures made com­pil­ing it im­pos­si­ble, es­pe­cially for an im­mi­grant brood, far away from the rel­e­vant pub­lic records.

But when Keith sent off his DNA, and the test for Moor­ish her­itage came back neg­a­tive, he seemed crest­fallen. I said it didn’t make him any less spe­cial. He laughed. “Think­ing you’re spe­cial is for the young,” he said. “When you get to my age, you like to think of how un­spe­cial you are.”

The stereo­type of my gen­er­a­tion is that we all think we’re one of a kind: uni­corns. But, in­spired, I looked on­line for oth­ers shar­ing a Genghis myth: there are (ap­par­ently) 16m 6m de­scen­dants. Six­teen mil­lion n peo­ple, a bit like me. Per­haps I’m a real grownup now, be­cause I don’t mind one bit.

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