I’m English, foremost and utmost. Yes, very proud of that fact!! I was born in Ely, Cambridgeshire, which is in the South East of England, to Chris and Keith Walter. Dad was a Royal Air Force electrician which meant, after about two years at the air base, we moved to Wales to another air base. Here my brother (my only sibling) was born. We lived by the sea in South Wales for a few years. I have many fond memories of our time there. This included such things as screaming at my parents; after climbing and collecting fish and crabs from rockpools into a bucket; that the crabs were eating the fish. My parents, in their wisdom, stopped by the side of the road and we upended the bucket into a ditch of fresh water, which likely killed them all that much quicker! Still, at four years old I never knew of this tragedy! Other memories were when my Dad had been away on some mission he’d grown a mustache and I didn’t recognize him when he came to pick me up from nursery. I refused to leave with him, both parents having drummed into me how not to go off with strangers, and my Mum had to come sort out the mess! I was probably showing the first signs of my stubbornness that haunted my parents through my teenage years.
At five my Dad decided to quit the Air Force to give my brother and me a stable education. We moved back to his birthplace — Westbury in Wiltshire, in the South West of England — to first live with my Grandparents and then at our family home. My earliest memory at this time is refusing to sleep because it was still light outside. My entropic Dad dealt with this one — finding a thick, dark black blanket and pinning it up in the window, making the room pitch black! However, I still sneaked under the covers with a torch and a book! I hold many fond memories of my life in this small country town. The town itself has its own White Horse, built on the slopes of Salisbury plain. It was built to commemorate the major battle that Alfred — King of Britain — fought against the Saxons. The truth is though that the original was built on an opposite slope but couldn’t be seen clearly. Some wise decision was made and a new horse carved! Still it’s pretty old, as is the bronze age hill fort built atop the plain.
Other old sites around this area include Salisbury or Sarum; which has the tallest cathedral spire in the UK and the remains of the walled city; Stonehenge, I don’t think I need to explain this one. Then there is Avebury, another ring of stones that is much larger than Stonehenge and where you can actually get within touching range of the stones. Another nice site is Bath, or Aqua Sulis in the Roman tongue, which is home to many museums, ghosts and, oh yeah, the Roman Baths.
My school years passed in much pain for my parents and much enjoyment for myself. I was fairly willful and very much into teenage parties and boys! I managed to skip school on many occasions and only attended things I enjoyed, mainly science subjects.Later, I found out my Mum received a letter from my Headmaster during these years saying that she should learn to control me better. My Mum sent back a letter telling him he should make the lessons more interesting and then maybe I wouldn’t skip class! Cool Mum eh?! School was fun, I never got picked on, maybe the fact of my family reputation and the other that there were a fair number of us at the school at one time, being the real reason. The highest number during my five years there was 9 cousins and my brother. We were quite a large family I guess!
After school I went to technical college. The reasons were numerous but the fact it meant I never had to make the pretense of wearing a school uniform (not that I ever did anyway) predominated in my decision. Here I started down the track of my career, studying Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics that eventually took me to University in Coventry. Coventry was another old city, bombed heavily in the war by the Germans who were led to believe it was Birmingham, the next city, much larger than Coventry and home to multiple ammunition factories. Time here was fun too. I remember water fights, food fights, playing American football inside our house, drinking competitions and many other things that I’d dare not put here for fear of reprisal!! Some were very, umm, naughty, yeah that’s a good word!
I spent a total of four years at University; taking a year out in the middle to work for the government based Medical Research Council on Juvenile Arthritis. I loved the job but I hated London, where I was based, too big and crowded for a country girl. During the summer, I got a posting to a pharmaceutical company in Oxford for a collaboration project that lasted three months. Oxford is dead when there are no students around, but it has some cool country pubs and you can go ‘punting’ a rather English pastime, punts being similar to gondolas in nature.
After managing to finish University with an Honours degree and still having a good time, I moved home to the parents for some six months. Here I helped out at the seating manufacture company my Mum worked at (having worked there a time or two myself in the past) as an assistant buyer and drawing office assistant. It was as boring as hell, but I managed to pay off my college debts whilst looking for something that took my interest. Well eventually it came along.
I received a research position at Birmingham University working on angiogenesis as a molecular biologist. Just what I wanted. During my time there I investigated the use of a growth factor, called Basic Fibroblast Growth factor, in blood vessel growth after heart attacks. However, research funding stopped just as we were starting to get results, and papers, out and I had to move on.
I made the decision to stay at Birmingham University and took another job. This time I was working with Insulin-like Growth Factors in relation to spinal nerve regeneration and wound healing. Luckily, at Birmingham, I also managed to get approval to start a Ph.D. on my research. I also managed to wrangle a ‘working’ visit to Australia to present my work at an international meeting in Sydney; and yes, I went exploring too. In fact I went via Bangkok and Hong Kong to Cairns, where I spent two glorious weeks exploring the rain forests and the Great Barrier Reef. Mountaineering in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, sailing around the Bay of Islands and exploring the thermal areas in New Zealand were also particular highlights. My fascination for waterfalls seemed to be sated in the Northern Territory where; as it is fondly known; I went ‘down the track.’ That is we started at Darwin and travelled the length of the Stuart Highway to Alice springs. The scenery was magnificent, lush and green in Kakadu as compared with dry and dusty in Tennant’s Creek. Yep, it was the rainy season and the humidity was incredible — so were the mosquitoes! They didn’t seem to like me or is that I managed to pick a room with 3 other girls that they liked better?! Hee! Anyway, I eventually made it to Ayer’s Rock and the Olgas. Guess what? Despite the temperature being 130F and no rain in months — it rained. I never got to see the promised sunrise or sunset; instead it was glorious clouds. So, that’s still on my ‘must do’ list! I came back via Singapore, which was another experience. It was rather too clinical for my taste
That year was busy. Just before going to the Far East I’d made the decision to spend the largest amount of money (at that time) in my life. Yep, I was a sucker and bought a house. It’s was in a quiet little suburb of the city and Dad and I spent a lot of time making it into something better. Birmingham, for those that don’t know, is the second largest city in the UK. It used to be a major industrial city, and whilst this is still true in many aspects, it fast became a cultural city. It is home to the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle formerly conducting, and also the Birmingham Royal Ballet, formerly of London. Birmingham is close to Warwick, which houses one of the finest medieval castles in England. The site was originally singled out and fortified by William the Conqueror and was involved greatly during the English Civil War. Another close site to the city is Stratford-Upon-Avon, home to the great bard. Yes, I’m talking of Shakespeare; his works being kept alive by the Royal Shakespeare Company; based here. Sadly however, another grant ran out — such is the life of a scientist! However, I did manage to finish my Ph.D. and some relevant papers and graduated in July 1997 in the full regalia — yes, it was HOT!
Moving to the United States
I eventually finished writing my Ph.D. and handed in the copies to be sent to my examiners the day before I flew out for two weeks vacation in San Francisco. I didn’t want to come back. When I came back, I settled in, re-read my work, prepared for my Viva, passed that, went on to spend Christmas with my parents and then hurriedly tried to finish off the work to my house, whilst at the same time getting it on the rental market so that I could move and not worry over financing it. I found a couple to move in from March 1st, so I packed up my things, had them sent to America and headed that way myself after spending two final weeks with my parents.
Once in America I looked around for a job, found one, but it fell through — long story of a problem with not being paid enough, not as if Scientists ever get paid, but. I settled down to trying to find a job, interviews came up about once every six months, then two came together. I took the opportunity to work for the University of California, San Francisco, working on alcohol addiction. I had one review article published, and a couple of papers. Since then I have moved on to teaching. Something that I have found that I am both good at and enjoy.
I also made the plunge and bought a house here, which I still live in with my dog Bella and my cat Gandalf.