I read an interview recently with comedian Sue Perkins, she of Great British Bake Off fame, in which she said something along the lines of: ‘You get to an age when you assume your friendship dance card is full, and then someone new and wonderful comes along, and enhances your life immeasurably’. I know exactly what she means. I’ve had a couple of instances in my life when I thought I had all the friends I needed or wanted, and then someone lovely and interesting and funny has sashayed into the room, and whoosh, within a couple of months I could not imagine my life without them.
I’m still very good friends with three people from my school days in Salisbury, and in touch with loads more on Facebook. My uni housemates – a trio of gorgeous girls - are still tremendously important to me. I share decadent dinners in London with a couple of special people from the days when I had a proper job as a journalist. Plus I’m really close to my sis, and DH and I have been friends since we were 15. That’s a pretty good haul. I was quite content with that.
Then I got pregnant for the first time, and signed up to NCT classes to learn ‘how to have a baby’, as you do. Before the first session, in May 2006, I distinctly remember saying to DH: ‘I’m not going to make friends. I have plenty of friends. I don’t need to make friends with people just because we’re having a baby at the same time.’ Oh, how wrong I was. Because in that room were three lovely ladies who I still see regularly. As our four big girls approach their seventh birthday, I know with absolute certainty that I could not have got through my journey of motherhood without them. You really do need some friends with children of exactly the same age, who totally get what you are going through in that moment.
One of them has become my best friend. We see each other every week. We text or call almost every day. Our families have holidayed together, and celebrated every milestone of the past seven years together. I’m her son’s godmother, and we turn to each other first when we need any help with the kiddies, or just want to hang out as mums and smalls. We both love tea, and wine, and good steak, and spa days. She’s tall, beautiful, clever, generous, makes me laugh, is extremely good company, and is just as happy to watch trashy telly in companionable silence as to have a proper chat about everything under the sun. Our girls describe each other as best friends too, even though they go to different schools. She was the first person I told when I’d been diagnosed with breast cancer, and was hardcore Team Pinchy throughout that little interlude. She also makes a cracking fish pie. We’re very different people, in so many ways, but we rub along really well, and I love her to bits.
Then, when DD was in pre-school and DS was in nursery, I met another mum with two children exactly the same age, both girls. We started chatting in the car park, then having playdates, then getting together at the weekends as families. Luckily – and I do think this is important – DH really likes her DH, so they have become ‘couple friends’, and another critically important part of our Guildford family. She’s extraordinarily lovely, funny, and thoughtful, and is also the only person I know who’s even more into the esoteric, complementary, woo-woo, and magical as me, and the only person I can talk to about certain things without having to edit what I’m saying. She gets me, completely, and I get her, and when we give each other a massive hug every time we meet, we both feel our shoulders drop and both exhale loudly, like we are each other’s sanctuary. We became really close when I was diagnosed, and I couldn’t have got through it without her.
Surely now, as I approach my 40th birthday this summer, that’s it as far as friends go? I am so, so lucky to have all my amazing girlfriends, plus a couple of lovely male friends. There’s no room for anyone else, right?
Well, wrong again, Pinchos. Because in the past few months I have acquired yet another dear friend. Well, I say acquired, he just appeared out of the blue, like a wonderful and unexpected gift. As with my two best girl friends, I remember exactly the first time I met him, thinking: ‘You seem rather marvellous. I’d like to get to know you better.’ And lo, I now cannot imagine my life without him in it. He’s tall, dark and handsome, not to mention clever, hilarious, and a brilliant baker. He sings beautifully, and makes me copies of his favourite CDs. He brought me peonies when he came for dinner this week, my favourite flowers. He always smells delicious, has some very good shoes, and is a reliable source of big squeezy hugs. He also gives the best text of any man I know – long, detailed, witty, and always with a kiss on the end. He is brilliant with the kiddies, who adore him. He’s a stubborn Gemini, like my sis, so although he is relatively new, being with him feels oddly familiar. He’s gay, of course – no straight man ticks all those boxes, let alone embraces champagne and Eurovision with such gusto – and it is an unadulterated delight and privilege to count him, already, among my very favourite people.
Life has an ebb and a flow, however, and other friends have come and gone. I have made many other lovely friends since having children, and through school and work, each of whom enhances my life. I would never have the same conversation with any two of my friends, and there is surprisingly little social overlap between the people I love most. But I’ve found friends getting divorced extremely distressing, because when a foursome is ripped apart, the ripples go out a long way, no matter how hard you try not to take sides.
So I feel truly blessed to have my coterie of friends, old and new. I really do love them all, very much (and tell them, all the time) and have an enormous amount of respect and admiration for them: all of my dearest friends have experienced extremely tough times and yet have remained dignified and compassionate, and bloody good fun to be around. I’ve learned – and continue to learn – valuable lessons from all of them.
I do think it’s possible that my ‘friend dance card’ is now properly full. But who knows? It turns out there is plenty of room in my heart. All I know is that if I keep the friends I have now for ever, I’ll be more than happy. As Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet: ‘In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed’.