Last week, amidst the current upheaval of countries and people, and sandwiched in between the world’s political circus, melting icebergs and the demands of my media-savvy clutch of children, I paused for thought. In my somewhat chaotic lifestyle two things happened to make me stop and wonder at the meaning of friendship. First, as can often happen, two people we had not seen for nearly a year came to dinner with their infectious smiles – it was as if we had seen each other every week and as is the way with best friends, the intervening months melted away within moments.
And then, days later, as I was still inwardly feeling the warmth of the immense pleasure that re-acquaintance offers, I met a couple who – over a three day visit – took a good few steps down that same path of friendship; it was as if they had always been in our lives, intertwined with our past, present and future. They were generous, sympathetic, interesting beyond belief and simply understanding of their world and ours; it did not take long to realise we were moving through life on the same plane of existence. They came to stay, and now have left, but already they have earmarked a date to return – I think and very much hope they will be part of our lives from now on.
We enjoyed dinners together, not lavish, stand on ceremony affairs but simple kitchen suppers shared with our children and as is so often the case, when the numbers swell it’s easier to serve buffet style, because there simply isn’t enough room on the table!
Friendship is a many-faceted precious stone, I think. From the mini-schoolday joy of shared candy, to the soulful attachment we can have with long-term partners.
I wonder, do men and women have very different types of friendships ?
There is something about the male psyche, where on the one hand they will tell no one that they are nearly dying of some delicate matter, yet exchange the intimacies of their life across a train carriage with a complete stranger. Women, on the other hand, seem to tend to take longer to develop trust but I believe a woman’s close circle of friends may be larger than a man’s. It’s an understanding that fascinates me and I know there is a lot more to it.
Friendships can have so many different foundations. Roddy reminds me of this, where in a previous life aboard fishing boats day to day challenges meant everyone on board would save their fellow crewmen from injury or death on a regular basis, a happenstance rewarded by a casual pint of beer perhaps, at the end of the day, and an “I owe you one, thanks, mate”. Such a gesture of manly gratitude for an indication that one has one’s foot in a coil of rope that is going overboard fast is the sort of ingredient that perhaps a very male friendship may include. It is a different sort of relationship, but no less important, and as a result, Roddy has a handful of friends who he does not speak to for months, sometimes, years, and yet – when he does – a strand of conversation or thought is taken up as if nothing has happened during the interval.
The friendships in my life are manifold and varied, I must admit. I have people who I used to ride with, school friends I have known since we were six and people who I used to work with. There are many from my life alongside Roddy and friends I have made at the school gate, mothers together with our children in common.
Friends shop together; some buy clothes and shoes
and others go to a brocante in all weathers, braving the wind and rain searching for their joint interest of vintage treasures.
I have made friends at our local market and I love nothing more than to watch as people take the time to stand and talk always starting with the French traditional greeting, la bise, of course.
A friend is someone who tells you the truth; a friend is someone you can be laughing with one minute and debating something of life changing importance the next. Friendships can be made over a shared glass of wine and a long lazy lunch.
Some friends we see ever day or every week. Others might move abroad or to another part of the country. Long ago, the only way of staying in touch with someone like this was via long, lovingly written letters, that might take weeks to reach their destination but that were always cherished and reread several times. Perhaps they brought with them words of great happiness which gave joy to the reader, and so too I am sure there were pages delivering grief and sadness and much anguish for the recipient as they read each sentence.
Nowadays, of course, the written letter has to a large extent been over taken by emails and social media platforms. Whether you love these mediums of exchange or hate them, I say we should embrace them for what they offer – a wonderful way to stay in touch with friends and family, instantly around the world, in real time. And with video thrown in, it’s as if we were in the next door room! But every now and then I like to send a card or a postcard, because there is still noting quite like the thrill of receiving a letter from a friend in the post.
Not every friendship has to be human on human. Many animals have very special relationships with one another, usually within the same species.
Although dogs and cats can often become best buddies, and I once had a horse who was almost inseparable from his best mate, a goat.
Dogs have proven themselves time and time again to be man’s best friend; they can understand our moods, they can make us happy when we feel sad, and they will stick by us through thick and thin; they are more than just a companion and they are incredibly loyal. Some are purely pets, while others like sheepdogs have a place on the farm. Then there are the police dogs and sniffer dogs, and the guide dogs for the blind. Anyone who has ever loved a dog and lost a dog will feel a lump in their throats when they read my favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Four Feet’.
I have done mostly what most men do,
And pushed it out of my mind;
But I can’t forget, if I wanted to,
Four-Feet trotting behind.
Day after day, the whole day through —
Wherever my road inclined —
Four-feet said, “I am coming with you!”
And trotted along behind.
Now I must go by some other round, —
Which I shall never find —
Somewhere that does not carry the sound
Of Four-Feet trotting behind.
For me it always brings a tear to my eye, wherever I go I nearly always have Evie by my side, I open the car door and she is in, joining me on the journey to school.
And I have another friend who is neither animal nor human, she is a country. France is my friend, she has welcomed me and my family with open arms. She has not criticised or judged my foreign accent. She is educating our children. She has made me feel as if I belong. It is a different sort of friendship, but just as important – for me, and for my family – for without it, we would not be here.