The first question I was asked by the Faculty Head, my publishing agent, my wife and my three children was: ‘Why Tullibody?’ Why leave everything that you’ve built in London: your house, family, social group and working life behind to go and live in a place you’ve never even visited before? I can certainly understand their disbelief. After decades of building a career; a dense network of research fellows and publishing deals, I essentially had my life planned out for me in the capital. My children, all at school ages, would never forgive me for dragging them all the way to the jewel of Scotland just for the sake of my fanatical research. My wife, much younger than I, would resent me for taking her away from the excitement and glamour of the fashion industry that she adored so much. On the face of it, the whole decision looked like madness – I’ve already mentioned the word ‘fanatical’ with good reason.
Then again, a certain level of fanaticism does run in my family . The Oakenfolds have never been known to settle, in some ways I’m almost the black sheep of the family for having lingered in one place for so long. My great-uncle Terrence fought in World War II, although he could have easily avoided the conflict. Whilst most men were being conscripted, the British Government were determined to retain a certain number of well written historians; so that the events to come could be reliably recorded by those who would be most grateful. Terrence, balking at the notion of being shut up away inside a stuffy office, whilst his fellow country men fought for his safety, stowed himself away on a supply ship heading to Normandy. There, with very little training, he aided the French Resistance and managed to see most of wartime Europe during one of the most turbulent times of our history.
Growing up in a time of relative peace and stability, I had no such opportunity to trade in the mundanity of the daily grind for a rousing adventure. The world was a different place, by the time I came to my adventuring years. Most of the planet had been discovered, named and photographed by the time I had graduated. The lands that hadn’t been seen with the human eye, were quickly being scanned and logged by satellites and drones. It seemed that the entirety of the human race was all too busy recording their own histories on tablets and phones, soon there would be no need for historians, as every person constantly shaped their own public image in line with the social norm. I was crushed with ennui, I married my wife in my forties through a sense of duty to social conventions more than any kind of world-ending love. My children were just the afterthought of that. It wasn’t until the winter of 2015, when I had taken to spending large swathes of my time locked up in my study ‘writing’ with a bottle of whisky, that I received an email one day from an old University friend…