It wasn’t the unseasonal sunshine, nor a whole decadent day in London without duties, the prosecco, or even the mini-icecream attached to my coffee cup. Delicious as these were it couldn’t beat spending the day with two of my oldest friends who I met twenty five years ago this month.
It’s so hard to believe that it was quarter of a century ago that the three of us shyly said ‘Hi’, silently checked out each other’s 501s and insecure smiles, and decided she’d be cool to hang out with. Ok, so that may have just been me: they probably heard me coming before they saw me and decided I may not be cool, but I made a fool enough of myself to mean they would never look uncool next to me and certainly have plenty to laugh at (remember the apple pie in the lift incident, Hels?)
We were in the same hall together at Nottingham University. It was one of those single sex halls that seems to be set firmly in a 50s time warp. Say the word ‘Florence Nightingale Hall’ to anyone who’s shared the experience, and memories of wide corridors, parquet floors, radioactive-looking lemon curd and a head of hall who wouldn’t look out of place in a Milly Molly Mandy book all come flooding back. The warden who had apparently wondered off the set of Open All Hours was the only man to frequent our bar. He looked harmless enough in his blue overcoat, but many a male student would be found dashing furtively past his hovering presence at the main entrance in the small hours to avoid being arrested by his eyes….
And so, to get over the shock of the whole silver anniversary thing, we made our normally full diaries submit to the superior task of meeting up in London to celebrate the date
bemoan the number of wrinkles. Thanks to our being scattered around the country or globe for much of the last 25 years, we rarely see each other as a three, but with all of us now living within an hour of central London, this just had to be done.
Coffee at Fortnums, lunch by the Thames, Poppies at the Tower. A 3 mile walk along the Southbank.
Swapped snaps of our first year ball. “Did we really look that young?!” I couldn’t find one of the 3 of us then (‘selfies’ being an impossibility back then). The closest I could find was this in 1992 at a party my parents threw for me after my gap year in Uganda. The faded look is entirely natural after 21 years of sitting in a photo frame:
The late September sunshine surprised us with its heat. This was the summer that never seemed to end….like the wonderful care-free three years we enjoyed at the beginning of the 90s.
So much water has gone under the bridge, fitting that we should eat within view of the Blackfriars bridge. Our wrinkles spoke of raising kids, house moves, country moves, unexpected losses, unexpected children, unstable hips, unstable backs, chronic fatigue, chronic pain…. yet our happiness and positivity spoke of lives truly blessed: husbands we are proud of, children we adore, life-giving careers, love as our foundation.
We were known by certain guys as the Blonde Babes. Flattering as that might have been at the time, I wonder if our giggly exterior was misleading. Little did they know the deep bonds of friendship that were being woven, nor the depth of H & J’s characters. Their wisdom and graciousness belied their young years, the secret lying in their stable home lives and the knowledge of a God who wasn’t the distant or irrelevant one I’d mistaken him for from my Catholic upbringing. I’m certain we found each other for a reason.
Our paths from there to now have sometimes met, many times deviated. We’ve chosen different life partners, careers, politics. But that hasn’t mattered. The bond of friendship has remained. When you’ve bought old man macs from second-hand shops and coordinated them with monkey boots, shared your last Pro-Plus to get that essay written in the wee hours, and even swapped boyfriends, a certain connection never leaves you. Even more so when you leave Uni to walk the road of life with the same faith tucked into your old man’s mac.
“Is life as we expected it to be?” I mused. At the tender age of 18, none of us had consciously thought as far ahead as 43, let alone 33, a future too far beyond the horizon to figure. I knew the answer though. It never is as expected. Not fully. That’s the joy of the journey.
The sun really did seem to sparkle and dance on the river, like a generous friend that decided to stay longer than planned, way past its natural course. We have so much to celebrate. Friendship that lasts this long is worth its weight in gold.