I’ve heard it argued that the printing-press is the greatest invention of all time. It’s not the answer that immediately springs to mind but, upon closer examination, I can follow the logic. It placed information into the hands of ordinary people; it broke down something of hierarchy or privilege and; it enabled individuals to wrestle with the most powerful thing in the world - ideas.
Yes, there have been abuses of the printing press through propaganda and the more suitable nuances of modern-day media and marketing and I recognise that the impact of inked out words are directly correlated with literacy rates. Nevertheless, the printing press was a building block – a blueprint for: the type-writer; the word processor; the keyboard and; the smart phone. All of these help us connect with the world at large and communicate something within that in our digital age. The manner in which global events are reported has changed beyond recognition through platforms such as twitter and, yet, I find myself wondering at times whether we have become a nation of skim-readers – satisfied snacking on headlines, 140 character sound bytes and hash-tags. Do we really read anymore? Do we stop and chew things over? How impressionable are we? How moulded are we by the people we’ve placed around us? How well-informed are our judgements?
As is my custom, I was scanning my twitter feed last Wednesday morning whilst clambering out of my cycling gear in the office changing room. I noticed that Surfers Against Sewage’s Chief Executive, Hugo Tagholm, was up from Cornwall and in Edinburgh for the day. The access we have to on-line acquaintances enabled me to ask what he was up to? It turns out he was attending a charity dinner hosted by the People’s Postcode Lottery who had given a generous grant towards a new van for their work. Within a couple of tweets time we had arranged to grab a cuppa mid afternoon and we both organised our schedules and worked our lunch breaks to accommodate an hour carved out from 3pm. It was an unexpected surprise and a welcome interruption to the day that I had planned in my head.
If you’d been people watching in a certain Edinburgh coffee-house last Wednesday afternoon, you wouldn’t have observed two more animated and engaged conversationalists – chatting enthusiastically and listening intently as we covered a host of topics that each of are passionate about: surfing; environmentalism; but, more than that, we were trading stories of our every day lives – of the places we find ourselves, the people placed around us, the responsibilities we hold, family life and how precious all of that is…I don’t know if it’s something that comes into sharper focus at a certain stage, but there was a real sense of living in the moment – a quiet urgency of sorts. Neither of us are individuals who want to sit on the side-lines and merely observe. Both of us smiled knowingly when I quoted a line from a book that said something along the lines of “living in the age that we do we’ve never been so well-connected and, yet, so out of touch.” We talked of friendships. We talked of life decisions that each of us had made that left us financially poorer, but with a life that was so much richer in other ways. Hugo told me that his favourite times surfing aren’t necessarily when the waves are at their best, but, actually when he heads out with a specific friend who isn’t the best surfer in the world – but, where there is a contagious sense of joy whenever he catches a half-decent wave. I think you could hashtag it #gratitude.
Hugo was recently asked in Surfer’s Path, “Is surfing a profound thing to do or is it just a big waste of time, chasing one quick thrill after another?” This is how he answered:
I like that. As our time together ended, two grown men stood up to settle the bill. One in jeans, trainers, jumper and technical jacket - a surfer to the initiated eye for detail - the other suited and booted, but both with big grins on their faces, glints in their eyes, having stoked the embers in one another’s days – parting with an embrace and a plan to catch up in Cornwall in July. Funny how simply volunteering at events consistently over the years and popping into SAS’s offices when on numerous holidays in Cornwall has birthed some friendships that regularly leave me inspired…
Whilst I take my work and associated responsibilities seriously, I’m sufficiently open for them to be interrupted – whether that’s by an invite from a friend, a text, a change of plan or an alarm set on my watch at 12 noon each day summoning me to stop, to pause and to look up.
It’s been a busy week. Not every day has gone to plan. There have been demands and distractions and things undone or incomplete. On Friday night we prioritised an evening spent with other close friends. They are hurting and mourning the loss of a close friend in recent weeks. As we sat there chatting and eating, I couldn’t but help feel a happy sort of sadness – a realisation that I’ve navigated this thing called life with this particular friend ever since I was 18. Life’s taken us to different places at times, but here we were in his house where the girls each of have married are good friends too and all of our children love when they all get the chance to run riot together. Again, there was a deep sense of gratitude amidst the sound of minor keys that fill their present days in the aftermath of loss.
So our weekend closed off with what we affectionately refer to as a Soul Sunday. We knew the John Muir Winter Festival was happening and that some friends would be there. It was a crisp, cold, day but there was such a great atmosphere as people left their centrally heated homes and watched a host of events including rowing, cross-trail biking, dog-racing (where the owners were attached to their dogs by bungees and harnesses and tried to keep up or where they were dragged by the dogs on giant scooters!) right though to a big air wake-boarding demonstration. Hot drinks were consumed and it was good to spend time with friends and fleetingly catch up with other folks who we hadn’t realised would be there too.
And with that another invitation was offered – did I want to make the trip back down the coast to come skateboarding later on? It wasn’t what we’d planned as a couple, but, Lady V knows how much pleasure these things still give me. In turn, I threw out a few other invites and was joined by another friend for the car journey too. More time carved out, chatting and sojourning together. And so, an impromptu skate session resulted in another evening well invested with friends simply hanging out, having fun on a day where the surf forecasts were rubbish.
I’m coming to realise that fostering a culture of invitation tends to work both ways…and that’s pretty sweet.