I have just spent the afternoon with an old friend in her eighties who is virtually snowed into her house. We have looked at, read and discussed the poetry of Jen Hadfield, the recent winner of the TS Eliot poetry prize over a cup of china tea. Her cat has sat with us and listened to it all - he is a most erudite cat (or would be if he could talk). We have passed a very pleasant couple of hours on a pretty miserable day.
Aristotle saw a friend as a single soul dwelling in two bodies - in other words a soul mate. If we actually find a real soul-mate in life I would say we are very lucky indeed. But friends - there is a different matter. It is a brave person who says he doesn't need friends; even the word "friendless" brings a chill to my bones.
I certainly would not have liked to have been without mine. Some have been constant throughout my life; some have come and gone; some have stayed to be a very important part of my life.
My oldest friend, J, I made on my first day at infant school. She always says that I took her to school but I don't remember that (isn't memory selective?). What I do remember is that she had very shiny black hair with a blue hair ribbon which kept slipping off until our very wise infant teacher secured it with a hair grip. I remember sharing the infant toys with her, especially the farm animals. We would kneel on the classroom floor and set up a wonderful farm (nothing's changed except now it is for real!) and I remember her utmost belief in Santa Claus long after the rest of us in class had sussed it was your Dad. Now we live at opposite ends of the country, yet we share long phone calls about gardening, about memories, about our families - and we manage to meet up once a year.
Moving around the country has meant friends left behind but even a letter at Christmas in with the card means that we have never really lost contact. Some friends have fallen by the wayside but then I suppose some friends, like some marriages, don't survive separation.
Moving up here twenty years ago meant making new friends - but now after those twenty years of shared experience they have become old friends. My oldest friend, B, gave me such support at a very difficult stage of my life, when I was nursing a dying husband. Just one single act during that time marked her out as a true friend, when she sent her husband to the door with a box full of ready-cooked meals for my freezer. It was an act of kindness I have never forgotten.
So thank you again, B, if you are reading this - and love too.
We are all getting old together now. Not so much Derby and Joan, more a lot of Joans together, sharing coffee, tea, worry, happiness, laughs - the list of sharing with friends is endless.
So thanks M (we don't meet so often now but when we do we can talk all afternoon, taking up where we left off a month ago and never running out of things to say). And thanks Gl, who I see much more often and who keeps me up to date on bird sightings and who is interested in so many different things that she regularly sparks off a topic to put on my blog. Thanks F and R, who live in The Netherlands and who we only see occasionally but who e mail regularly and keep in touch. And thanks J, who is a "real" poet and who never tires of reading my poetic efforts and giving me constructive criticism on them
My friends have stuck by me through thick and thin and I don't know what I would do without them. As Walt Whitman said, "I no doubt deserve my enemies but I don't believe I deserve my friends."
So here is a toast to Friendship - raise your glasses to all those wonderful people who form such an important part of your life and never let you down.