17/08/2022

Foreword DFB – Introduction

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It used to be the practice for families to maintain a large bible that was handed down through generations and contained growing lists of family births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths. These bibles became valuable repositories for a family’s genealogical information long before nation states started to keep and consolidate such records.

St Gregory the Great, Bristol

I do have a bible from when I was confirmed at the age of eleven. It was presented to me by the Bishop of Bath & Wells at my parish, St Gregory the Great Church in Horfield, Bristol. It described itself as a ‘High CofE’ church. Here I was a choirboy (earning two shillings for each wedding). I was a server at the altar, occasional bell-ringer and for a short while a Sunday school teacher.

My bible has a label inside the cover showing my name as Robert Denton, the bishop’s signature and the date, Sunday 31st May 1959. Within four or five years of that presentation I had urged all my friends and family to call me Bob and had concluded I had no belief in a supreme being. But I have retained that bible – alongside my swimming certificates – for no particular reason that I can explain.


Gutenberg’s Bible

Family bible – showing records

The ‘family bible’ emerged in Victorian times and was handed down by a Christian family. Each generation recorded information about the family history – births, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and deaths. Some also contained other records like letters, certificates, newspaper cuttings and photographs.

So this document is inrended to become my ‘family bible’, the one we, as a family, never actually maintained. It collects together everything I knew and what I have been able to find through research. It tells the story of the Dentons across more than 1,000 years.

I leave to my grandchildren, and theirs, the task of taking this forward into the future. Sorry to sound maudlin, but into a future that I shall not share.

I have started with a DNA analysis that I purchased from National Geographia. It takes our lineage all the way back to East Africa and to humankind’s Y-chromosome Adam who lived over 200,000 years ago and the Mitochondrial Eve who lived there 180,000 years ago – so they clearly never met!

Plot of the mutation markers that describe the routes of my maternal antecedents (red) and paternal antecedents (blue) taken from Africa to Europe.
The codes are the haplotypes, the numbers the approximate number of years ago they would have been there.

One thing this exercise has taught me is that humankind is all one family. My paternal (blue) and maternal (red) migration routes took in many countries as shown above. As you will see, my subsequent family history shows connections right across the British Isles and beyond.

I am just one insignificant part of the demographic phenomenon referred to as the ‘baby boomers’, the post-WWII surge in babies created by the survivors, and those returned and recovered, from both the depression of the 1930s and the war of the early 1940s.  We arrived in a period of rationing and austerity but grew through a period of peace thanks to NATO, with good healthcare thanks to the NHS, and we were economically able to achieve greater individual freedom, expression and mobility than our parents.

One of the first casualties of our freedom was the beliefs of our parents. We argued with the establishment by marching for almost anything – civil rights, students’ rights, women’s liberation, against nuclear arms, anti-Vietnam, anti-apartheid, anti-hunting…

The soundtrack to our youth was provided by rock ‘n roll, the Mersey Beat, Tamla Motown… We wore our hair longer and developed our own style with pop art and op art. We rebelled against elitist fashions, instead purchasing our ‘self-expression’ in boutiques. We became mods and rockers, hippies, punks…

We took overseas holidays and no longer sought a job-for-life. We achieved massive strides financially through the greater use of credit, expanding car and home ownership. We smoked, drank more alcohol, encompassed foreign cuisine and experimented with mind-changing drugs. Whether historians see this as all good or all bad, or more likely somewhere in between, it cannot be denied that as a generation we made our mark.

Now our bulge in the demographic data is entering old age. By the middle of year 2018 I completed the three score years and ten promised by the Bible’s Psalm 90. The psalm also cautions that it is soon cut off, and we fly away. So, before I do fly away, I thought I should understand more about my roots.

I can see that much of those seventy years were spent thoughtlessly, doing rather than thinking. As John Lennon (1940-80), poet songwriter and singer, elegantly put it

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.

I just got on with those plans rather than becoming overly concerned about what life might actually mean.

Living today we are victim to all manner of intrusions, impacted by all those 24-hour news channels, false news, constant sport, email and text scams, social networks, cold callers, unsolicited flyers, chuggers… They combine to batter us, leaving little time to sit and think.

There is always so much to do that any deep thinking is regularly parked, for later – well one part of my procrastination stops here.

Steve Jobs (1955-2011) the PC pioneer/entrepreneur (Apple Computer, NeXT and Pixar) cautions:
‘Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.
Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.
Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.
And most important[ly], have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.’
Apple products

Of course few of us can be said to have truly grabbed life by the throat, or been sufficiently clear about our objectives and pursued them quite as single-mindedly (and successfully) as Jobs did.

Plato’s account of Socrates trial and conviction reported that the great philosopher failed to defend himself against his death sentence. He merely repeated his belief that

the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being

So now seems to be a good moment to examine what led to my life. Yes, I am aware of the irony of my quoting someone who did not write down his own spectacular thought processes. Socrates believed that writing served to imprison knowledge, yet thankfully his immortality was assured by Plato and others who recorded his thoughts, after his death. ‘Imprisoning’ them does have value. For example, without John Denton of Cardew’s Accompt this would not be possible.

So this enquiry is as much a search for meaning. Douglas Adams (1952-2001), English writer and dramatist, was certainly succinct on this subject. His answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything was ‘forty-two Of course he intended this to be amusing, but just maybe he was on to something –the 1450s Gutenberg Bible was the world’s first moveable-type printed book and it used 42 lines per page, the Bible’s New Testament Book of Revelation (81-96 CE) says the beast will hold dominion over the earth for 42 months, Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) died at the age of 42…

But then Adams, did sound a cautionary note for those pursuing the ‘ultimate question’.

There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for
and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre
and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

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