Learning how to look behind you
“We spend too much time looking ahead and feeling we have lost out, instead of looking behind and thinking we are doing okay”
My name is Patrick Davies. I am an ex-diplomat and writer and have recently embarked on the mission of walking across the UK in order to fundraise for Alzheimer’s research
I grew up in a small village in the North of Cheshire. Despite the affluence of the general area, my upbringing was relatively working class, living in a two-up-two-down townhouse, and my father working in the local factory. I moved away when I was 18 and went to University. I graduated in the 1990s and was subsequently offered two jobs, one by British Airways and one by the Foreign Office.
I was in the rare position, as a graduate, of being faced with two incredible career opportunities. However, I was concerned that due to my background I wouldn’t fit in with the upper class culture of the Foreign Office. I was anxious to hear my parents’ opinion on what I should choose and my mother expressed that she shared my worries about the Foreign Office. But after hearing her opinion I decided to take the job. I realised that we only have one shot in life and I shouldn’t decline this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity out of fear of feeling out of place.
Therefore I began my career in the Foreign Office. The tasks I undertook varied greatly from day to day, but my first position was desk officer for Cambodia and Vietnam, giving advice to people who were intending to travel there etc. I worked with the Foreign Office for 20 years and throughout my time there I had many different experiences and lived across the globe. I lived in Morocco for 2+ years, then came back to London and worked with the Foreign Secretary, then lived in Poland for 4 years, then Iran and even worked within the U.S. Embassy in Washington.
I learnt a lot from living around the world, the most important thing I realised was that people aren’t very different no matter where you are. I also had the revelation that we are so used to looking ahead and envying those whose circumstances are better than ours, that we forget to look behind and consider those whose circumstances are far worse than our own.
As I approached the end of my time in Washington, around 4 years ago, I was faced with another difficult decision. I could either carry on with my work with the Foreign Office or I could take a new path. My father had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so I felt a strong urge to stay close to my family, rather than being thousands of miles away as I had been before. Therefore I came to the decision that it was time to leave the Foreign Office. I began writing a book about the American illusion, a topic I had been greatly interested in throughout my time in the U.S.
Then Covid-19 hit, I was visiting my family in Cheshire at the time, and I made the choice to stay with them and live in a caravan in their garden rather than travelling home to London. I didn’t want to leave my mother to care for my father, who was high risk and in declining health, all by herself. I finished writing my book, throughout my time at my parents’ home, and it was of moderate success but I felt anxious about the path I was going to take next.
Despite being extremely well travelled, and having lived across the globe, I couldn’t help the feeling that I had neglected my home country, the U.K., and felt it was time I made an attempt to reconnect. I was also inspired by my father’s illness to attempt to fundraise for Alzheimer’s research. I felt that there was not enough research on Alzheimer’s despite how prevalent and extremely cruel the illness is. Therefore I set out on a mission to walk from one end of the U.K. to the other to raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
I started planning just 4 weeks before I set off, quickly gathering supplies and lightweight camping equipment. I began in Lizard Point in Cornwall and worked my way to the furthest part of Scotland, also taking a detour to complete the 3 Peaks. The journey was an emotional rollercoaster, particularly the first 2-3 weeks where I felt myself struggling with coming to terms with my dad’s condition. I found the beauty of the U.K. extremely overwhelming too and not just places that are renowned for their scenic views, like Cornwal,l but in places you don’t expect and in unconventional ways, such as street art.
Overall the walk was 1400 miles and took 74 days to complete, of which I camped every night, apart from around 10 nights where I stayed with friends or the weather was too bad. I raised close to £30,000 for Alzheimer’s research and surprisingly many of the donors were people I met along the way, who had asked about my journey. It was a truly unforgettable and therapeutic experience, particularly through the meditative quality a walking pace provides.
Finally, I would like to emphasise that life is about helping others. Whether that be directly through helping a cause, like I did, or through simply reminding yourself how far you’ve come and how much you have to be grateful for.