I meditate, as I always do after a weekend away with one of the best beloveds, on the power of old friendships. I used to get crazy furious about romantic love having all the prizes, especially when it came to women. I hated that sexual love was privileged over all others, and that a lady was considered nothing without a big old gentleman by her side. (Even now, some people look at me and mutter.) I wrote a whole livid section in Backwards about how in fact friend love was just as important and profound, and romantic love was mightily oversold.
I don’t get so cross now, but I think, more quietly and possibly more passionately, that the deep friendships are the absolutely indispensible thing. And most especially the really old ones. The man I went to see in the Borders was one of my first friends at university. We’ve known each other for nearly twenty-seven years.
I think: why does that matter so much? It’s the small things – old jokes, familiar references, not having to explain anything because everything is known. It’s that we both love what Mrs Merton used to call a heated debate. He’s a little bit on the right, and I’m a little bit on the left, and practically the moment we see each other we roll up our sleeves and get into it about big vs small government. (For those of you who are not political geeks, this might sound like hell. For me, it is very heaven.) This weekend we did: politics, morality, prejudice, gay marriage, and religion. All the subjects, I suddenly realise, that were once verboten at the dinner table. All the subjects that are of intense fascination to me. (Well, those, and what is going to win the 2.55 at Newmarket.)
It’s also the absolutely huge things. If you have known and loved someone for that long, you have a witness. Your eighteen-year-old self still lives, held safely in the memory of those old compadres. It’s like having a lovely portrait on the wall. Someone remembers that raw, youthful person, and that seems like an existential essential to me.
The other good thing about the true friends is that they take you with all your flaws, and then some. My friend and his wife give me those fond, quizzical looks that only good friends can, as I ramble off on some long rant about one of my special subjects. I try, as always, not to bang on; as always, I fail. They let me. It is a rare luxury.
My dear friend The Expatriate called the night before I left for the weekend. She comes from that same vintage of 1985. We had the exact same conversation that I do with all the original loved ones; a mixture of teases, old jokes, new frets, tiny moans, bracing encouragements. Keep buggering on, we say to each other, laughing weakly. It’s the friends that enable one to do that, in my book.
Maybe the best thing of all about the old friends is that they know I am an idiot, and they love me anyway. They have many, many examples of my idiocy, going back over many, many years. They have pictures of the idiocy – the eighties hair, the peroxide kick, the – God help me – eight strings of pearls, the invisible skirts, the lost years when I really, really thought cowboy boots were cool.
Now they have to put up with riding boots instead. The very lovely thing is that they seem to be taking it on the chin.
I was so busy ranting about the state of the nation that I quite forgot to take any pictures of the lovely Borders. Instead, I took some of the drive home. Some of them are a bit nutty because I was snapping from a moving vehicle. (Too eager to get home to horse and dog to stop the car.) But I quite like the strange effects:
And at home, the leaves are turning and falling:
Friends of the four-legged variety:
My brain is in hopping, jumping mode today, and I have a horrible feeling that this post is filled with grammatical errors and infelicitous phrasing, but I’ve got the editing blindness that sometimes comes, where my eyes do not let me see all the horrid mistakes.
I think: ah well, the Dear Readers are like the old friends, and forgive my flaws. The shouty, perfectionist self thinks: but what of the New Reader, who has to bash through my mazy paragraphs and may conclude that I cannot write bum on a wall?
To that New Reader, I say: it’s almost always better tomorrow. And I really do hope that is the truth.