My first friend was probably my paternal Grandmother. She was an ally, someone I could trust. She protected me from people who could do me harm. I will always be in her debt because she taught me how to be both naughty and kind; honest and deceitful and I would like to think that I am only ever deceitful to achieve something important for someone else or for the greater good. She taught me that age didn’t matter you could still be outrageous, funny, warm and understanding. She also taught me that you don’t have to put up with crap from others.
Living in a small community in Ireland, friends were especially important. The nearest village a three mile walk and the town nine miles away. My school was tiny and each class or year sat in a row of seats on one level. The older and more senior children sat at the back of the class. Presumably the teachers were under the misapprehension that those children would behave themselves. Well in my class of 6 or so children I sat next to a girl called Rita. I kid you not my best friend at school was Rita and she came from a well to do family. She always had lunch and a drink with her. I remember her sharing her food with me and her cold tea too. Rita was an obedient child and not the sort of girl who would get into trouble.
I walked to school with a group of children, it was about a two mile walk across fields and past an orchard. The boys were naughty but there was one girl who was older then me and most of the boys, Mary, she kept me safe on the walk and I dreaded the days she couldn’t make it to school because the boys would tease me and hit me. Eventually Martina, her little sister was old enough to got to school so she walked with us. She was the most angelic looking child blond hair and beautiful big eyes. She was just a bit younger than me and we were friends. When I had to leave Ireland to move to England it was Martina who took my place to conduct the school orchestra on Raidió Teilifís Éireann, I can’t remember which channel.
No one could replace Rita though she was grounded and kind and sensible and she took care of me when I got in trouble, which I did often. I loved to play by a rose bush and used to creep under the bush into an opening where I felt like a princess. For some reason this really annoyed the teacher who would regularly find me there and give me a good caning on my hands, in front of the whole school. It never deterred me and only Rita could stop me from going there every break time.
I learnt the term friendship when I started to read. I was drawn to books where people depended on each other and where they overcame obstacles. I loved The Terrible 5, St Trinians, Island of the blue dolphin, okay this is not about friendship between people but a girl and a dolphin.
As a teenager my parents couldn’t understand why I would spend a day at school only to come home and spend the evening on the phone with that same person. This is long before the mobile phone and if my father wanted to speak to my mum he would ask the operator to cut into the call. He always had some emergency or other he used to get the operator to do this. I would sometimes get a telling off later. I loved sitting at the base of my parents bed in front of a fire on the bedroom extension talking about utter nonsense for hours. I still keep in contact with some of my school friends and its a joy to catch up with them although its less often now.
So what is a friend?
Is it someone who cares for you and sees no wrong in you?
Is it someone who sees you for who you are and still loves you – warts and all?
Is it someone who always compliments you and never offends?
Is it someone who says it like it is risking the relationship?
I guess its a little of all those things depending on the day, place, time and circumstance. You can find friendship in the most bizarre and unexpected places. On a trip from the Falkland Islands home a member of the cabin crew welcomed me like a long lost friend. I’d chatted with her several times and last travelled on the day of the Grenfell Tower crisis and was quite upset and she remembered and asked how I was. We talked a fair bit on that flight. Now, is that friendship, great customer service or just kindness?
Some of my colleagues have started as acquaintances and ended up as close friends. We’ve travelled together, cried together, eaten things we probably shouldn’t and definitely drunk more than would be advisable. They are people I’ve shared some intimate thoughts with and they are, occasionally, also the people I’ve had the worst arguments with. They are people I trust and value and they are the people who give me a helping hand when I needed it and I hope the same is true of me.
Neighbours have become loved and valued friends, sometimes they feel like family. We help each other, we fall out, we support each other and we have fun together.
For over a year I lived away from my regular friends and I met lots of new people. Some of the relationships were purely transactional and others will hopefully last for the rest of my life. I didn’t really expect to make new friends but I met amazing people I would die in a ditch for. Now I am home, lets see if those friendships continue. I certainly work at them.
So is friendship something that keeps us young? Meeting new people and forming bonds is good for us; we know the research on this. I think that forming new friendships at this stage in my life increases endorphins, creates oxytocin and yes its totally wonderful to spend a whole afternoon with friends to then look at your watch and ponder where the time has gone. Realise that you’ve spent hours with the same person, chatting, being quiet, listening, arguing, laughing till your sides hurt and still knowing that this is someone you will want to see again tomorrow.
Finally, I have writing friends, quilting friends, reading friends, gym friends, eating friends, adventure friends and drinking friends. Some overlap but others don’t and never would want to. I have friends I can have short conversations with once a decade and still feel their presence in my life even if we are both too busy or too far apart to meet. I have friends I can chat to once or twice a week. I have friends of all ages. I am always open to meeting new friends particularly walking friends!
So if you are a friend of mine, thank you, I love and value you and I know I am lucky.