Jane and I have just returned from lunch with some friends. They live eighty miles to the east, so we met half-way at a country pub. It was great to catch up: a few hours chat, a glass of wine, an excellent menu. We must do it more often.
Our friends had flown home from Australia last week. They'd been to visit their son who emigrated two years ago; a four week trip - their second in a year - and they plan to go again in March.
The motivation isn't only their son: they have a new grandson, born earlier this year. 'It's lovely out there,' they said, 'but it's so all or nothing. By the time you get there, you've got to make a trip of it - and of course, there's the expense.'
My mother lives round the corner. She used to live four hundred miles away, and I preferred it, but that's a long story. To be fair the proximity has certain advantages: she babysits occasionally, Dylan goes for tea on Tuesdays, she can feed the tortoise when we're away. She can also pop round unexpectedly, phone up because a light needs changing, and when she was ill guess who did the nursing? Jane, you're an angel.
Our friend's daughter lives in East Anglia, she has a baby and another on the way - understandably she'd like her mum around. 'It's a difficult distance,' they said, 'not impossible now we're retired, but too far for a day trip.' Longer term, and after much consideration, they plan to move within fifty miles. 'It's a big upheaval, but then you think about your real priorities.'
Jane would live nearer her parents. When we first met she lived half a mile away; her brother lives in the same village as do the other grandchildren - his divorce proving no barrier to proximity. I suspect we will move back one day, though not to the same village. For there is a fine line between closeness and claustrophobia; between living our own lives and sharing in someone else's.
Where we live now, Jane's parents are an hour's drive. They come once a fortnight and usually stay over; we look forward to it. And they, in turn, enjoy us visiting them; they live near the mountains so we can combine it with a weekend break. This arrangement has worked perfectly for fourteen years; so long as everyone is fit and has access to a car it is a good compromise.
But there is no set formula. And I often wonder how I will feel when my boys move away. I can rationalise their need to move on, the requirements of their careers, the opportunities of bigger places. And yet beneath the surface - not even deep down - I know I will be bereft.
For years our only discussions on their personal space have revolved around tidying bedrooms. But gradually their horizons are expanding: trips into town, overnight parties, can we go to the festival please? This week Daniel signed up for an expedition to Borneo. I have told him he can go, so long as he earns his passage and keeps our trust.
This is all as it should be - it is part of the growing up and away from us that they need to do. I know it is not healthy to hold them back. But just occasionally I think, 'not so fast.' And I know that all too soon I'll be hoping, 'not so far.'