Out of office

I’m writing this post while on an overnight train from Miami to Washington, DC. I’ve been in the States for a couple of weeks now, having previously been in Cuba for just shy of a fortnight. I’ll be this side of the Pond for another few days (New York beckons after we’re done in Capitol City) then it’s back to London for barely enough time to get over my jetlag before it’s off to Berlin for a “lads” weekend (I use the inverted commas advisedly as fellow lads are in reality two fellow culture vultures who are both leading lights in major London museums!)

I know what you’re thinking, pretty sweet summer holidays, Boasty McBoastface. The thing is, this year to date has been anything but sweet for me. Just after Christmas my father passed away, after several years of poor health and more time spent in hospital than at home. His death was therefore something we knew was coming and so were steeled for, but – as I’m sure many who read these words will know – the grief that follows the passing of a loved one is not something that’s easy to legislate for. It took me considerably longer than I’d bargained on to get back in a positive frame of mind, during the latter stages of which my wonderful girlfriend and I resolved to seize the opportunity of both being temporarily without current employment but with money saved from previous jobs to finish our “life reset” with a flourish by travelling for a few weeks.

Through the past few months Surrey Medieval has been (along with my PhD research) a source of comfort and stability. Regular readers may have noticed several of my 2016 posts have been considerably longer than the pattern established in previous years. The reasons for this have been partly inspiration, and partly consolation. My old man was an architect (and moreover one belonging to the old school – all hand-drawn plans and calculating things himself) but was unstinting in his support for my left-turn into medieval studies. He did his best to keep up with the new things I’d post on Surrey Medieval, so I like to think he’d approve of me putting so much time and energy into stuff for the site since the turn of the year.

I love travel (who doesn’t?!), especially for how it gets me thinking about new places visited and experiences gained along the way. Of course, this time around I’ve had even more to think about. When I first decided to write a post to explain my recent silence and current whereabouts, I found myself shaping up to launch into a tirade against post-referendum  Britain while celebrating the beauty of Cuba, its people, and certain aspects of the state. As it turned out, I never began to write such a piece, and 2+ weeks travelling across the USA from sea to shining sea inevitably yielded much new food for thought (not to mention food for the stomach – oh, New Orleans!). I’ve thought about politics and economics. I’ve thought about what it means to be British, and how I’ve taken to self-identifying as being from London rather than from the UK. I’ve thought about how progress in society can only really come from the present and the future, not the past, and thus how I can rationalise studying what I do in a way that has practical value beyond shooting down wanton misuses of the history or archaeology of the medieval period. And, needless to say, I’ve thought about my father and some of the many good times we shared.

It’ll be a few weeks before I’m back posting new stuff here again. (My phone has stopped working which is why I’ve been silent on Twitter too, so that’ll need fixing before I’m tweeting again.) I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve, for that is where I keep my ideas, including some long-delayed pieces about Puttenham church. As and when I do compose these I intend the outcomes to be a lot more focused and succinct than the multi-page screeds referred to earlier; they were labours of love, but in this tl;dr age must quickly exhaust the attention spans of most readers. More immediately, I must start preparing myself for the jolt back to reality that the end of my travels will bring, and the need to find a new (fulfilling!) job as well as resume my PhD research in earnest.

Let me sign off from a very dark Charleston, South Carolina, by bidding you a most enjoyable remainder of your summer, Northern Hemisphere!

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About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
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