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Distance is painful

Hello awesome person,

Spring has well and truly arrived on Vancouver Island. It might even be late Spring here. We're on the second or third wave of tree blooms: magnolias and apples are in full flower, the species of cherry tree with baseball sized flower clusters are out in force, tulips and daffodils and even early camas are blooming in the fields. There's warmth to the sun that I haven't felt in months.

We were travelling last month (more on that below) so the shift in sun angle is the most striking feature of the season. When we left, the afternoon sun through our balcony window cast a brief, narrow band of light right at the front of the sliding door. Now that the sun is higher, Iggy can lie in a warm sunny patch in the middle of our living room for well over and hour. I can even open the door a crack and get some fresh air in the apartment huddling under blankets. Fun times.

I hope you are enjoying the season no matter where you are in the world. And if you're still waiting for the warm spring air, be patient. It won't be much longer.

Distance is painful #

Last week Cindy and I returned home from a trip to see our kids in the United Kingdom. We flew to Glasgow first, via Seattle and London, to spend two weeks with Ben. It had been almost two years since we had seen our son in the flesh, and from this dad's perspective, that is far too long. We wandered around Glasgow together, went up to Inverness for a long weekend, and just hung out together as much as we could.

It was a lovely time together, rich with moments to simply sit and talk. Our typical days included wandering about the rainy West End, or Shawlands, or Deanstoun, or Mount Florida, trying to avoid buying more books at every shop, then settling in at a coffee shop for a warm drink, slice of cake and a good visit. We took the time to dig in, in all the ways that seems impossible on Zoom. It's so hard to sit in silence on Zoom, to truly listen and consider before responding. It's so much easier in person. We left Glasgow sad (how could we not?) but also assured, confident and also, dare I say, a little proud. He's figuring it out. We understand more what he's after and what he's working toward.

And then, far too soon, it was back south to London and the south-east to Ramsgate to visit Robyn. It was a similar routine, checking out the seaside villages in Thanet, a 48 hour getaway to Brighton, still trying to avoid book buying and failing miserably. The only big change was the afternoon coffee shops were replaced with afternoon games of cards at Robyn's flat or our AirBnb. Again, spending time simply being together, letting the silence and understanding grow. Again, leaving far sooner than anyone wanted.

Back when I worked at SaskTel, a colleague and her husband built a new house out in the east end of town. A big place, far larger than a family of four, or five, or eight needed. I couldn't understand why she wanted so much space. But she said, she was Greek, and would be having the whole family over for supper most Sundays, so she needed space for 30 people or so. Thirty people, all together! It sounded horrible at the time. What about space? Privacy?

At the time, all that family felt oppressive. An obligation and a burden. We were in a global village, could fly around the world for cheap, and with the miracle of the Internet, we could stay in contact with the click of a button. Why not see the world, live in the world? Scotland today, New Zealand tomorrow?

Twenty years later, I think I've changed my mind. My friend might be on to something. Maybe having your people close to you, physically close, is important. OK, not thirty people all at once, but there's something vital in sitting together, eating together, playing cards together, making time for silence in between the words.

While we were in Glasgow, we visited the Kelvingrove Museum. There's an exhibit on the Highland Clearances and Scottish emigration to the 'New World'. One huge painting showed the last few members of a large clan, standing on the shore, watching a ship leave for North America with their family members on board. It's a haunting image. There would be no long distance calls, no Zooms, likely not even letters crossing the ocean for those folks.

Yes, we have it better today. We're not completely disconnected. But I fear we've passed the point of Peak Travel. It's going to more difficult, more expensive, more damaging, to travel long distances to see each other. And as it gets harder to hop across the country or across the pond, as we realize that Zoom has its limits as a connection replacement, I wonder how things might change.

Maybe there will be a sales boom for dining room tables and, hopefully, a boom for the bakers who help friends break bread at those tables.

Who needs clothes if you have books? #

Flight costs being what they are, I stuck to a carry on bag for my month away. And my habits being what they are, I deliberately left room in my carry on for books (and chocolate, but that's another story.) If I keep moving, nobody will notice I'm wearing the same outfit, right?

Here are a few of the gems I picked up this trip:

A People's History of Scotland by Chris Bambery. Actually, I took this with me. I bought this book in Edinburgh two years ago and started it then. I finished it in Glasgow this trip. It's a remarkable, inspiring yet terrifying book. Seeing how the vast majority of working class people were treated as property (at best) and machine parts (at worst) throughout history is overwhelming. And in this time of rent hikes and price gouging, it's remarkable how little we know and talk about the organized rent strikes and labour actions of the early 20th century. So much more is possible than we allow ourselves to believe. Very moving book that goes right up to the 2014 independence referendum. Big recommend if you can find it.

The Art of Reading by Damon Young. Should be titled the philosophy of reading I think, but it's been a good read. Slim, dense volume, like a Sacher tort. There are a few thought exercises that are so wild it feels like the ground below me opened up and I'm floating in open space. A very fun find that I totally bought because of the cover.

A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros. OK, I bought this off the front table of a hip and trendy 'literary' bookshop on Portobello Road. They saw me coming. But I now have two philosophy books about two of my favourite things, walking and reading. I feel smart. Sue me. At least I didn't buy a $50 stapler.

The Peckham Connection: Trading Places. This is a really neat project by In the Right Light. They interviewed independent businesses in Peckham, London in 2014, and each business they interviewed recommended the next person to interview. The result is a chain of connections and stories. I love it and totally want to steal this idea and do it in Victoria. In a way, that's what the podcast is all about - who do you know? Can I talk to them too?

The Teach Yourself Letter Writer by C.S. Humphreys (Teach Yourself Books). So much fun. A slim volume from 1950 on the correct way to write business letters, personal letters, household letters and so on, with examples. I now know the proper way to request a summer guest house, ask for a raise, ask my beloved's father for permission to marry, start or suspend milk delivery, and complain to my landlord about a rat infestation. The examples are best read out loud, although Cindy and Robyn aggressively disagree with me on this.

That's it for this week. Shout out to Dennis for nudging me to send an update. I hope you're having fun and enjoying the world around you. Stay healthy, stay happy. 💖