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Thank heavens for the smoking ban

May 16, 2018

If you know me at all you’ll know how unlikely it is to hear these words coming from me. Yesterday was the first time in my life I’ve ever thought them and in this instance there were special circumstances.

Last month when I was in London I let it be known that if people would like to see me I’d be in the George Inn in Southwark on a Monday evening.

the george

Unfortunately it didn’t look like this. On that evening in April it was pouring with rain.

As I would be travelling back from visiting family earlier that day and wouldn’t have a lot of time between dumping my bag in Deptford and heading back up to Southwark, I arranged to meet my dear friend Irmani for a bite to eat at the George before the serious drinking began. One of my friends in Deptford mentioned that the pub used to have wonderful whitebait. Whitebait? Good lord, it had been decades since I’d eaten whitebait. Happily it was still on offer and both Irmani and I indulged.

Not long after we’d eaten two other chums, Luna and Joanne, showed up and we had great fun catching up. A couple of hours later Irmani and I excused ourselves to go out into the rain and have a cigarette. (Stupid bloody smoking ban.) When we got outside we ran into Mark, a fifth person who’d said they would be coming, outside smoking in the rain. The three of us huddled under an umbrella, then returned to the table. I’d been told by Irmani that Mark would soon be departing to travel around the world for up to a year. When I asked him about it, he told me that, rather than flying from London to Australia (where his parents now live), he’d be plane hopping across Canada and flying to Oz from Vancouver. Vancouver? Yippee. That meant he might be able to come to visit me for a couple of days! He said he’d love to do that and was hoping I’d ask. I also told him I could set him up with free places to stay in Montreal and Vancouver.

Before I even left London I contacted some friends in Montreal and Jane immediately replied that she’d be happy to offer her spare room. And so in early May he arrived.


I think this is Jane’s street.

He and Jane hit it off immediately (as I knew they would).

On Sunday, a week and half and two other cities (Quebec and Toronto) later, he arrived at “Gabriola international airport”, unable to believe quite how thrilling the seaplane flight had been.

Mark plane

I decided it would be nice to stop at the pub on our way back for a pint and a look at the view.

surf view

Throughout the drive and at the pub, Mark kept saying, “I can’t believe you live here.” Finally I asked why and he pointed out that he’d only ever seen me in London before and the contrast was really rather spectacular. Fair enough. I suppose it would be.

I first met Mark some years ago when I was working for a homelessness charity in London. I liked him immediately and the feeling seemed to be mutual. Although he did not work at head office, I saw him fairly regularly at after work drinks and we always got on very well. On my trips back to London in the past decade I’ve always made a point of trying to see him. Although we’d never actually spent any one-on-one time together, I definitely considered him a mate and I was quite thrilled at the thought of him visiting Gabriola. And I thoroughly enjoyed showing him some of my favourite spots on the island. (Unfortunately for the sake of this post, it was Mark who took most of the photos. Although he’s promised to send them to me, he hasn’t had a chance to do so yet.)

His second night here we went back to the pub for a sunset dinner.

Mark sunset

I knew I would enjoy his visit. What did surprise me more than a little was how openly and frankly we talked to one another about various problems we’d had in our lives in recent years and how challenged we’d both been feeling about what comes next. I found myself spontaneously telling him things that many people I’ve considered friends for some time know nothing about.

It was yesterday as we were walking through the woods that he told me how close he’d been to not coming into the George that night in April. He had been suffering from anxiety – with an emphasis on social anxiety – for a while and although he was doing much, much better, it had apparently taken some effort to get himself out of his flat and to the pub that night. He’d looked in the windows when he arrived and hadn’t been able to see us (we were in a back room). He’d been smoking the cigarette Irmani and I found him puffing whilst trying to decide whether he could face going into the crowded pub to look for us. He told me that if we hadn’t walked out when we did, he quite probably would have turned around and left. And so I found myself saying words that I never thought I would hear from my mouth: Thank god for the smoking ban. If Irmani and I hadn’t been forced outside into the rain to have a cigarette, I probably would never have known about his plan to plane hop across Canada. He and Jane would never have met and I would not have had two wonderful days with him.

What a shame that would have been. What an absolute tonic it was to have him here. He arrived a mate and by the time he left he was a very dear friend indeed.

Pilot Mark

Bon voyage, dear friend. I look forward to following your adventures around the world. Just make sure you find your way back here some day.

From → Blog

One Comment
  1. Irmani Smallwood permalink

    You beautiful people. So happy you connected – was sure you would – and so happy Mark got to see you on the most beautiful island in the world ❤️ Xxx

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