So I have kept a lot of old friends, and they are gold, yes. But more than that: the gains have been far greater than the losses, friend-wise. Since the note on the mat I have made so many friends I never would have known had my life trundled along in its rut. For all the losses, my life is richer in so many ways, and one of the things I am thankful for is my new friends.
This is what I read at the naming ceremony of my twins:
Dedicatory Ode, by Hilaire Belloc
From quiet homes and first beginning
Out to the undiscovered ends,
There’s nothing worth the wear of winning
But laughter and the love of friends.
Recently a friend we knew as our former lodger came over with her new landlady, as well as a male friend. The man, an Italian, came armed with the wherewithal for the mushroom risotto for which he is famed, and a spectacular Italian pudding. The former lodger, who has a qualification as a sommelier, brought the wine. The new landlady (as well as some contributions to the meal) brought her dog! I had made starters and nibbles. What a relaxing evening we had, cooking, laughing and chatting. If my x had not abandoned us, I would never have taken in lodgers, never met this lovely woman, never met her landlady, an 80s popstar, never met her Italian friend who made a delicious dinner, and never even have had a dog in the house. (I love dogs, but my x was very allergic back then). Dinner parties in the olden days would have been pretty formal: I would have done all the cooking in advance, there would be a seating plan, the children would have been tucked up in bed. We would have eaten at the dining table, which sat 12. These days we don’t have a dining room, and don’t miss it most of the time.
At the insistent urging of my mother, who is worried about my health (amongst other things) I joined a gym near my new home. There I have met many new friends I would not normally have enountered back in my old life. In my old neighbourhood, gym members were typically slick and urban, yummy mummies or hardnosed career women in a hurry. Here, the women in my aqua class are mainly retired, mainly Asian. Many in their 80s, one extremely spry lady recently turned ninety. She drops down into the pool from the edge like a teenager while the rest of us tend to line up to use the ladder. She also is one of the few in the changing room who usually wears matching lingerie! (When she heard where I lived, this lady revealed that she had lived in my street many years ago in her ‘starter home’.) If I go in the sauna, I often chat, or sometimes just listen. So many conversations between women whose first language is not English. Where is the best place to go for waxing. How, if you shave, the hair grows back stronger. Aches and pains and cures for these. Some sit wrapped in towels, others slather themselves all over with oils (which is strictly forbidden).
The women in the evening aqua class are about my age and mostly work in offices during the day. Secretarial, admin. They can get there for seven o’clock. This group has taken me under their wing and I have been touched to be invited to join them, first for drinks after class (when bottles of pinot disappear very quickly and they offer me tips on local hairdressers etc) and also out to shows, dinner etc. One of them in particular teases me a lot about being posh or intellectual: they are all counting the days (still quite a big number) until they leave on their holiday to Benidorm, where they all had such a good time last year. They realise without my having said so that I cannot imagine holidaying in Benidorm, and guess correctly that I would prefer to go to a place with museums and/or beautiful views. What they like about Benidorm is apparently the entertainment and the cheap drinks. On closer questioning, the entertainment consists mainly of tribute bands, Elvis impersonators and the like. They said that most of the people there get around on mobility scooters and, asking why, the answer was a hilarious ‘because they are FUCKING LAZY!’
One of the group has just texted me to say I was missed at class today, which I skipped. So nice.
I tried a spinning class last weekend (which nearly killed me, especially the saddle which was made of razor blades). On the way out, the woman who had been behind me sought me out for a chat. She’s retired now, comes every day of the week to a spinning class at 6.45 and urged me to join her. She told me she’d made many friends in the club and that, over the years, she had been away on holiday with many of them. (She gave as an example India rather than Benidorm, which is more up my street!) ‘I’d love to introduce you to them’ she said, to my bewilderment. (Why? I thought, suspiciously.) I am slightly ashamed to realise that I can’t remember any of the details she told me about herself (family, work etc) other than that she can’t ride a bike. Given we had just come out of a knackering 45 minutes on a bike, and she had told me she does it every day, I was surprised. But apparently she has problems with balance and has never been able to ride one which doesn’t stand up by itself.
(Oh and then there’s a whole other thing: all the old friends I have got back in touch with who had fallen away during my marriage. Old schoolfriends, old colleagues, old boyfriends. Lovely.)