Friendship is a strange beast – it comes and goes throughout your life – more so in the early years, it seems, and with more passion in those years too. Nowadays, meeting people and making new friends tends to be all about the school run and you children’s classmates. No one has a proper identity in this friendship world, you’re just so-and-so’s mum. Your opening question isn’t ‘what do you do?’, it’s ‘how old is so-and-so’? You hope that you’ll meet someone who you actually like and want to hang out with, but even then it can be a slow road – first, a coffee, then maybe a play date, if you’re feeling it – maybe a dinner with the partners further down the road and this is when it gets properly interesting, when bits of yourself start to come out, rather than just mum-you. And then you just hope the real you and the real them still get on (will they still like me when they know my secret passion is Morris Dancing?). Making friends is definitely not like it used to be.
Even as an adult, I’ve made some brilliant friends who I’m really close to – but this has mostly been in extreme circumstances. I joined a tough, inner-city London primary school as an NQT the same time as four others NQTs and, my God, that’s a bonding experience. We were instantly thrown together, at the deep end – one of first training sessions was on how to safely restrain pupils – oh, how we laughed. We shared many tears (he threw a chair at me in the middle of my observation), laughs (What? She actually pissed herself on the deputy’s lap?!) and trips to the pub in our effort to survive. I know for a fact I would not have made it through that year, and the ones that followed, without these women.
When I was pregnant with my first, I went to an NCT group, dreading what might be waiting for me, having heard horror stories of hideous people in hideous groups. I totally lucked out, my group was brilliant – with not a hint of hideous. Talking about your fears of childbirth, practising birthing positions together and spending far too much time concentrating on your vaginas and what is soon to come out of them, makes for firm friendships too. And then, of course, the months after, when you’re reduced to a fraction of yourself and can’t think straight, let alone put a proper sentence together. “Does yours sleep?” “What colour is his shit?” “Does that constant crying and stressing and bad nappies and irritability mean he’s teething?” (I shudder just remembering this).
Going through the same experience, letting people see you, and help you, at your worst – these are what makes good friendships. I was very fortunate – all these people also happen to be some of my favourite people ever.
You might not find good work colleagues, and you might have had a hideous NCT group but, if you’re very lucky, you have a best friend – someone who knows you better than pretty much anyone, someone you can totally trust to tell you it how it is, someone who’s there to enjoy the good times and coax you through the bad. Someone who has seen you grown and develop into the person you are today and doesn’t hold any of the many moronic things you’ve done in your past against you.
I am very lucky – I have a best friend, and she kicks ass. Our journey is a bit like a romcom love story, but for friends – we met in our first year of secondary school – on the first day, to be exact. I saw her across a crowded hall and instantly decided I wanted to be her friend – she looked cool and relaxed (which is pretty hysterical as she isn’t know for being either of those things). We went through a few failed best friend relationships, as you do at that age, before we ‘found each other’ and, apart from a brief lull when I went to a different sixth form college, we have remained insanely close. We’ve survived location changes – (Manchester, London, Oxford, Isle of Wight) – bad boyfriends and boyfriend changes – (a certain ‘frying-pan-in-the-face’ boyfriend springs to mind) – career changes, dumping, being dumped, trying for babies, having babies and all that comes inbetween.
I know some women who are so close to their best friends they help them wax – Judys and all - and have baths together a la Girls. D and I aren’t quite like that – we have had a bath together, but it was at school, in full uniform and we did it thinking it would be funny, which it was, for about 4 minutes and then we were just wet and cold and in a lot of trouble. We used to hide ourselves in cupboards with our stash of ‘tuck’ – which ALWAYS consisted of pickled onion Monster Munch (all very Mallory Towers, I know) and moan about dorm-mates who were pissing us off. We had food fights, talc fights, secret cigarettes, illicit trips to the pub and everything else you do with a best friend at school. I’ve recently found my diaries from school, which make me blush and cringe and nauseous all at once – I was vaguely surprised to see that on at least every few pages there is some kind of reference to D along the lines of ‘I don’t know how I would survive this place without her’ or ‘Thank God for D, she’s the only person who really gets me’. Only surprised, by the way, that I did actually appreciate her properly back then (although I’m sure I rarely showed it).
At university, (we happened, without consultation, to go to the same one) we moved into a new era. More drinking - this time not illicitly - more dramas, more new experiences. We moved away from locking ourselves in cupboards – that would just be weird - and instead embraced the Chinese meal. This has now become our ritual. We don’t approach it as a normal Chinese meal – for us, it is an epic. We’re talking 4-5 hours, 4-5 bottles of wine, lots of food, shithead inbetween courses and much much much talking (too loudly) and laughing (too loudly). We have had many dirty looks from staff and customers alike at many different establishments over the years. It’s like my therapy – if we haven’t had a Chinese for a while I get twitchy and irritable and grumpy. When I once got dumped by a long-term boyfriend, D did a mercy mission up to Carlisle, where I was staying with my sister, for a Chinese therapy session. That was a particularly big one. I think we were the first and last people in the restaurant and disturbed everyone with our crying and laughing and sex talk (there’s always sex talk). We ended up lost on the way home, walking along the M6 very late at night and decided, in our wisdom, to call D’s housemate who was from Cumbria somewhere and therefore MUST know where my sister lived. Not surprisingly, he didn’t.
Since all of that, of course, there have been husbands and now children – 3 on her end, 2 on mine – children, not husbands. D got pregnant first which proved to be amazing as she could fill me in on all things pregnancy-related. Her mother is a midwife and had informed D that nearly all women shit themselves giving birth. We had no knowledge of this and were, obviously, horrified – we spent our days fretting about the possibility and thinking up ways to avoid it. I visited her in hospital after she had her first and she visited me at home after mine so we’ve both seen each other’s children within hours of them being born.
Nowadays, our meet ups are less regular and a God-send when they do happen. We text a lot now – about 20-30 times a day, with content that ranges from serious to venting to silly and surreal.
Some recent examples:
Me: It’s really unfortunate but whenever I do a hot fart I think of you.
D: But why? That is a hideous association.
Me: When we went glamping – I said I’d done a hot fart and you said you’d never heard of that, and how could a fart be hot. Now whenever I do one, you come to mind!
D: That was meant to be Ha! Not a cool street abbreviation.
Me: MBA! I like it. You’re so street.
This text conversation happened while watching an England match:
Me: I never can tell when the ball has actually gone in. I thought that free kick had gone in for a minute then. I didn’t jump up in excitement though. That would just be embarrassing.
D: I straightened my back. I think that is the middle-aged equivalent.
Me: Ha! I actually just lolled!
D: Please tell me you have more than gin to consume. I can’t drink alone.
Me: I have more gin? I can picture us in a film with a split screen scene – both watching the football and drinking alone.
D: I don’t think we would make the grade in Hollywood. Sadly.
Me: But neither of us can act so we would be played by American superstars. Me – Jennifer Anniston, you – Barbara Streisand.
Me: I was trying to be funny but couldn’t think of anyone on the spot.
D: I am desperately trying to think of a better match. I can’t.
Me: Claire from Steps (the not too fat version), scrunching her nose.
D: I think I will stick with Babs.
Me: You are SO not a middle-aged, Jewish New-Yorker with a good voice.
D: I accept I am not a Jewish New Yorker – but the rest is a good fit.
Me: Lolled again. As if.
D: I am a little comedy genius tonight it would seem. Splendid.
Me: I am watching the football, desperately trying to think of a better match for you than Babs.
D: What about…Penelope Keith.
Me: OOOOOOOOH – poss, poss.
D: I can totally see that – either as Margo or whoever she was in To The Manor Born. Prudish, uptight, slightly overly posh, middle aged numpty.
Me: For the record, I in no way think Jen An is a match for me. I was using it for not-so-comedic value.
D: I was chuckling to myself about you as Jen. Who would be your match?
Me: The Uruguay ians tops are very right. Nice to look at but I imagine they may be uncomfortable to wear…
D: Tight? Yes. Bit like cycling gear.
Me: oh yes, ducking auto-correct.
Me: I just lolled at my own joke. I’m such a twat.
D: Ha! Sally Fields?
Me: Me or you?
D: Me, I think. Originally popper into my head for you, but then decided she was too conservative.
Me: Poppered into your head?! I think you def need someone English and posh for you. Hyacinth Bucket?
Me: I love the way in which we are ‘watching’ this football. We are totally going to miss any goals.
D: Sssssh. I am watching an important part.
Me: I think you Penelope Keith, me the little annoying one – although I’m far less hippy and have much less fun.
D: Kendal woman?
D: Yes, I accept.
This keeps me going in between our meet ups, and, as I thought at school, I don’t know how I’d survive without D.
In a world where someone’s always asking something of me and I’m constantly dealing with shit (literally) and mundane housework, and not knowing what I’m doing with my life, and only meeting people who ask about my children, not me - seeing D makes me feel like me again. And that’s what best friends, mine in particular, is for.