The Other Kate

Exploring the perspective on history enjoyed by those who actually have some.


Well, by ‘recent’ I mean ‘not medieval’.

The speaker this time is neither a precocious three-year-old nor a witty 70-something — it is a young woman who doesn’t come close to splitting that difference. She looks about 20 to me, but that can’t be right. Somewhere north of 25 and south of 30 is my realistic guesstimate, based on what we’ve learned so far about her education and work history. Patient, charming, quiet but not ridiculously reserved, good sense of humour — all these we have also learned about her as she has squired us around Edinburgh and environs. And her communication? That comes straight up: neither sarcasm nor irony seem to be in her repertoire.   

Today we are heading north to our home-away-from-home for the next week — an environmental education centre near Inverness. Our guide enlivens the trip by naming every bird on the flit and every flowering plant glimpsed in passing; by pointing out everything from nearby ruins to on-the-horizon geological features; and by trying to communicate the broad sweep of Scottish history in simple terms for those few of us who have failed to do the recommended reading ahead of time. Oops, there’s some of that sarcasm. Although the mechanics of how the swap happened aren’t clear, it appears that I am in possession of the sarcasm she lacks, as well as my own proper share.

As we drive past the wreck of a castle not on the stop-and-photograph list, she indicates that it’s not of much interest, being of such ‘recent’ construction, and this is where we get into it.

Well, by ‘recent’, I mean ‘not medieval’.

Indeed — that’s usually what I mean by ‘recent’ too.

Except when I mean ‘in the last few days’ in the context of the last time I remember seeing my missing flash drive.

Or ‘in the last few weeks’ in the context of a half-remembered news story about something of scientific interest.

Or ‘in the last few months’ in the context of a celebrity’s death.

Or ‘in the last few years’ in the context of a major political event.

Come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I used ‘recent’ to mean ‘not medieval’.

In a country just now learning to spell and pronounce sesquicentennial in preparation for our eventual 150th anniversary (still a long, long way off — all of five years for goodness sake), ‘recent’ means, well, ‘recent’, damn it. In a country lacking medievality, it doesn’t mean ‘anything and everything that’s happened since the 15th century’.

You know, little things like the Renaissance (I think of Michelangelo and friends), the age of discovery (Columbus and his ilk), the Protestant Reformation (Luther et al), the scientific revolution (Newton and those guys), the days of Empire, political revolutions, the Enlightenment (Newton again, per Wiki ““ when did he find time to go to the movies?), the industrial revolution, the cessation of the slave trade, the theory of germs, the theory of evolution, the advent of world war, the mastery of the atom, the exploration of space, the triumph of the electron(ic). Whew. My knowledge of history is a little sketchy and jumbled, but that seems like a lot to lump together as the ‘recent’ past.

But if that’s how it’s going to be, well, I’m in. Not only ‘in’, but in-spired by Kate — the charming and ever-so-patient guide with the odd perspective on history.

When will that document be ready? When will I start that exercise program? When will supper be on the table?

Client/Doctor/Big Guy: Relax! I’m on it. Soon.

Well, by ‘soon’ I mean ‘before the next ice age’. That’s how you use it too, right?

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4 Responses to The Other Kate

  1. Jim taylor says:

    One of the interesting things, when one travels across Canada, is to see the historic “base line” rising from east to west. In the Maritimes and Newfoundland, the base line starts in the 1600s. In Central Canada, it’s in the 1700s. By the time you get to BC, it’s the 1800s or even the 1900s. History starts when “our people” arrived. Anything before that is either irrelevant or, umm, medieval.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Yes, I know we have little formal history, especially out West. I remember my surprise, seeing houses dating from the 1600s in New England. I sure understand Kate’s viewpoint – if you have medieval castles, one that was built in the late 1700s would look sort of, well, recent. Here in Ottawa, our heritage buildings are about 150 years old, if that.

  2. Judith says:

    This is why we travel – change of perspective…or at least being startled.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Indeed – as they say, if you wanted it to be the way it is at home, you should have stayed home! It’s kinda fun that you can’t predict what the differences will be…

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