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More about Paul ...

Who would have thought growing up in Billingham, England, would give me such a taste for foreign climbs? Yet, some of my earliest and happy memories are of the Billingham International Folklore Festival. For a few short days in August each year my small ordinary little town transformed itself into a place of wonder.

Billingham looked different. Strange looking people in unfamiliar garb wandered around the town centre. They spoke in unusual ways – heck, they even smelt different. They sang in our church, they slept in the local college, and they performed in the town centre daily. ‘They’, in case you were wondering, were an ever changing collection of folk groups from around the world.

I don’t know if it was chance, or the work of some twisted festival organizers, but you would get Russia and the USA one year and Israel and Palestine the next. If two countries were in conflict with each other, you could be pretty sure they would be represented at our festival! For me it truly was the wonder years. I learnt there was a big exciting world out there that was so different from the world I was familiar with. Oh, and I got to see a lot of amazing, talented dancing and singing, too.

I left school and entered the workforce around the same time that Margaret Thatcher came to power. A combination of her economic policy (destroying the manufacturing base, castrating trade unions, and causing huge unemployment) and my own uncertainty over my future career led to periods of unemployment mixed in with dead-end jobs.

Frustrated with the lack of any real career employment opportunities and tired of my own ‘world owes me a living’ attitude, I decided to take control of my own future and go back to school.

I left Billingham in 1983 and, other than two years in York, I spent the following 22 years living, studying, and working in Edinburgh, Scotland. After receiving a diploma from Newbattle Abbey College, I went on to gain a degree from the University of Edinburgh, spent a couple of ‘years out’, and then acquired a post-graduate diploma from Napier University.

Building a career in retail tourism came next. Highlights included working for Guide Friday, Camera Obscura, Edinburgh Castle, and Whigmaleeries Limited. From humble sales assistant to area manager in a mere 15 years! It was while I was working for Whigmaleeries that I first met Frances in February 2002. Long story short, in April 2005 I moved to Washington State, USA. May of the same year, Frances and I were married. I’m now the proud owner of a Green Card and an American drivers’ license.

I don’t know if it’s a natural urge to wander, being exposed to the excitement of ‘the big world’ outside of Billingham at an early age, or perhaps being the son of an Irish immigrant to the U.K., but here I am living in the very ‘foreign climbs’ I so admired as a youngster.

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