Sunday, March 20, 2016

Real People and Imaginary Friends

Today’s weather which is grey, not a scud of sun and heavy rain alternating with drizzle is a forcible reminder that perhaps I wouldn’t be that good at living in the UK any more.   I think I have become too much of a Southern Hemisphere gal – used to a default setting of sunshine, heat and blue skies, and rain that is more of the tropical downpour variety than the depressing backdrop to life stuff we are getting now.

During the almost 25 years we have been married, we’ve only spent 5 years in the UK.  It was a brief, undoubtedly rain-filled, but very happy, interlude, where we lived in Balham, and went from having one child to three.  Towards the end of the five years, I went back to university and qualified as a teacher, but before that foray back into student life, I spent a couple of years based mostly on my knees or sitting on the floor, clutching a cup of tea, chatting to my friends whilst numerous small children crawled and roamed around us.  In terms of timing it was just the best, our return to London, complete with a growing number of small children coincided with the brief period of time when the majority of my university friends were London based and all having children, so I had a ready made social group and the great luxury of having time with people who made me laugh, and even better understood my jokes.

I have just read ‘Late Fragments – Everything I Want to Tell You (About this
Magnificent Life)’ by Kate Gross.  She was as she says “ a successful thirty-something with an amazing job through which I travel the world and converse with presidents and prime ministers.  My adorable twins are three, and their father, Billy, is my soulmate, as well as being the best-looking man I’ve ever kissed.”   And then she discovers she has advanced colon cancer, and she decides to write a book for her twin sons to tell them who she was.  I loved the book, though I approached it with some trepidation as I am always nervy of cancer/illness memoirs as I think it takes really great writing to rise above the grief and misery, but what I think sets Kate Gross’s book apart is her thoughts on the business of living if you like, rather than dying.  I particularly liked her chapter on female friendships – I sat reading, going, ‘yes, yes, yes’ – thinking as I read that she was saying, so brilliantly, what I have always thought, and I so wish she were still alive so that I could write to her and say “Please, please, be my friend’. 

One of the things Kate says about her time at university is that “I count my time at university as precious not just because it is where I hatched [from a grub, as she characterises her teenage years], but because it is where I made the friendships that have accompanied me ever since.”  One of the upsides of moving round the world is that it forces you into situations of similar type intensity to those university days –  a survive, make friends or die type mentality, so I have been blessed in that I have continued to make great friends in life, but in the end it is the university and school friends who tend to get the middle of the night hysterical phone call or to whom I can admit that I have just eaten a whole packet of Cadbury’s mini-eggs and am now lurching round the kitchen like a Labrador that has committed a similar transgression.

Perhaps I actually was a Labrador in a previous life as I’m obviously very prone to wanting to bound up to people saying ‘Be my friend’ and metaphorically nuzzling around their knees – though obviously giving the sniffing their groin a miss.  Having just read J K Rowling’s address to Harvard Graduates in 2008  - (missed it at the time but it is just doing the rounds on Facebook a mere eight years later), she is clearly going on the list too as yet another inspirational and funny woman who seems to speak for me, and to me, but who also I feel wouldn’t be averse to a gingernut dunked in a mug of tea.

Before I get too carried away with my new all female fantasy friendship group, I should add the person who started me off on the wanting complete strangers, who take my fancy, as friends kick, which is now how I typify people who I admire and who make me laugh, was Jimmy Mulville, after I heard him on Desert Island Discs

Regardless of the rain outside and my bizarre Labrador like tendencies to want to be friends with the outstanding who cross my path, in print or on radio, what I should be reflecting on is how lucky I am like Kate Gross, to have so many outstanding friends in my life already, who do inspire and make me laugh on a daily basis, so this is a reminder to myself to cherish them and always to have a packet of biscuits or a bottle of wine handy in case they drop in.

PS Belatedly I realise the title for this post was stolen from the titles of two books by Alison Lurie, the American novelist, who is definitely on the list of desired friends, though such is the level of my admiration for her, I am not sure I would actually be able to utter a word were I ever to come face to face with her.


  1. Know what you mean about the gray skies of the UK. I'm in freezing Chicago but the sun is almost blinding. I would give some of that up though, to have my school and uni friends closer. They are the women who know me and to whom I still turn in a crisis.

  2. Hi Expat Mum - I know, though I do have to say I am overcome with envy of you in Chicago - from Sydney it looks much more 'pop-able' back to the UK than Sydney - though I have once managed to get back to the UK for a weekend from here - but was staggering around for a fair period of time afterwards. If I could transport my uni friends here - life would be perfect and a fair amount of rose would be drunk in the sunshine - though actually still raining buckets today.

  3. I have spent my life half in UK and half in France and as I move away from the bit where I had children climbing all over me and prams in the hallway I want to go to France ( the blog Manger a big factor here... ).

    However Spring lambs, cut grass, Church on Sunday, Cheltenham - I'm ok here.

    I saw this book and have been nervous to read it...I just read Matt Haig Reasons To Live which was tough in parts. I too have friends all across the globe . Blessed.

  4. You do realise, don't you, that YOU are one of those fabulous women, to many of us around the world??? xxx

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