Tag Archives: friends

Conjugal Footwear

I had the very good fortune to attend a wedding this weekend. It was my favourite kind of wedding – the kind where it’s palpably evident that the bride and groom are best friends and spend more time than is decent having a damn good laugh together. My marrying friends demonstrated this happy kind of love amply when they only just controlled their giggles at the word “sustain” in the vows. “It’s a funny word,” said the English-teacher bride later, “it makes you think of cows being milked.”

They spent part of the evening before their big day making giant dinosaur Top Trump cards for the wedding tables and they had a cake made of cheese with Lego people and knitted mice on. It was that kind of wedding. Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brachiosaurus all made an appearance, but there was no sign whatsoever of Bridezilla.

Usually, of course, I love a wedding not only for the reminder of the bond humans can share, but also for the photo opportunities. This time I spectacularly failed in the human-snapping department for some reason, but consoled myself instead with accosting people for photographs of their feet. You get excellent shoes at weddings, and through feet I met some very pleasing people indeed. I recommend this method if you ever find it difficult to mingle at parties – all you need is a pocket-sized point and shoot and you need never feel socially awkward again.

Half-baked thoughts on friendship

I think I’m about to do one of those ‘oh I love my friends’ posts. I hate those. I hate that kind of thing because it sounds so insincere to my cynical drizzle-soaked British ears. I am inexcusably intolerant of blogs/round robin Christmas cards/Facebook profiles that are all about how wonderful the writer’s life is. What is the POINT of them? Most people’s lives are a bit boring, rubbish or horrible at least 30% of the time. Who wants to read about how perpetually excellent someone else’s life is? And those people are either fooling themselves or they’re lying. Or they’re robots who don’t notice or reflect on the non-lovely things about life. And what do they think their readers will think when they read that stuff? ‘O my GOD what an awesome human being….‘? No. What readers actually think is one of two things:

a) My life is shit compared to theirs. I am a failure.

or

b) What a cock.

But… friendship. Yes. I’ve thought A LOT about friendship because more often than not in my trainee-human years it was a source of painful disappointment.

My first friend disappointment was M, who went to live in Tasmania when I was young enough to think that I might be able to hear her if I lay down on the ground with my ear to the pavement, and after that I moved schools enough times to prevent me forming a group of friends to carry with me through life. At primary school number 2 I made another friend I considered my ‘best’ and was devastated when she went off with someone else who talked about periods a lot and laughed at me for being embarrassed. I wasn’t comfortable with vagina-based conversation in those days. Nowadays vaginas are everywhere so I’ve come to terms with them (although am slightly troubled by the fact that modern ones are supposed to be freakishly hairless, like – as my friend P commented – a pack of Tesco Value Ham).

I’ve always felt that, once you have decided someone’s worthy of being awarded the title of ‘friend’, then you should be loyal to them regardless of what they do in the world outside your friendship. If a friend turned out to have done some murdering by mistake, for example, I would still be loyal to them so long as I knew they could be trusted with my feelings, that they’d make me laugh, that they’d insist on feeding my cat if I had to go into hospital for gall bladder surgery and would reassure me, when necessary, that I am not too repulsive to go outside.

But it doesn’t happen that way very often when we’re young. Most of us are too busy working out who the hell we are; obsessing over (and being misled by) our own needs and feelings and being tricked by the concept of ‘cool’ to make real friendships. We hurt each other by mistake because we are still clumsy in the world ourselves.

Another thing that screwed up friendships in my particular youth was alcohol and drugs. Friendship is basically about living/working around people who you trust and who can trust you, and I spent many of my formative years in communities twisted by alcohol.  it’s impossible to work together when everyone is perpetually imbibing the liquid poison that makes humans revert to what Freud would call their Id. Alcohol makes people want to shag, talk shit, fight and eat crap, and we don’t even really enjoy it when we do it because we’re too pissed. How is it possible to hold real relationships together when at any minute someone might misread something you’re saying and punch your face off?

Some drugs, of course, are supposed to promote peace, respect, love, harmony and all-night jiggling, but my experiences with people who use those is that they may be all unity and loveliness while they’re on them, but that just makes them seem all the more hypocritical when they’re back doing their juvenile swaggering, bickering and back-stabbing the rest of the time. LSD, too, is supposed to bring you together with your fellow trippers on a level that transcends the material. I have had that experience myself. I remember a particularly lovely trip where my friend P and I totally comprehended the universe and saw it spiralling in the air in front of us. We knew without speaking words that we had discovered the meaning of everything. It was a right bugger when we found we’d forgotten it 14 hours later. We felt the utmost harmony with each other, but ultimately it was meaningless because it wasn’t applicable to the real things we do in the world like make babies, friendships, sandwiches and decipher car park ticket machine instructions.

I used to genuinely believe that everyone should take LSD at least once in their lives because it opens up doors of perception that otherwise remain closed, man. What a dick. Now I’ve finally distanced myself from that world, I realise that those years I spent in various altered states actually suspended my development as a human and as a friend. I only started learning about things that matter again after I’d completely escaped it and come to realise that being ‘straight’ – being able to think clearly – is the greatest high there is.

After spouse and I abandoned that world, we gradually shed our connections with anyone who we couldn’t trust or who didn’t make our lives feel better in any way. This sounds selfish, but I reckon it’s the secret to constructing a life that feels worth living. Humans are pack animals I’m sure, but not just any old pack will do. I only have one close friend left from those days now, and we have both had quite a struggle unweaving ourselves from our background. I’ve learned about friendship together with her; I’ve also learned it from some extraordinary people I met in my first proper job, and from my own spouse (what is a long term relationship if not the most important friendship of your life?).

But oddly, having opined a lot about how much I’ve learned about stuff from growing older, it’s a 27 year old human who has taught me most about friendships; or maybe she has just made me pull together all my observations about friendship into a coherent whole. Whichever it is, it’s through discussion with her that I realise I’ve finally achieved those elusive friendships that I have looked for all my life.

This friend, H, is very wise (her dad recently said, “H, you never were 5 years old, You were born and then you were immediately 32″), probably because she has suffered from health problems since babyhood and is as familiar with the inside of a hospital as she is with her parents’ home. The result of this is that she has always appreciated the security of solid family and friend relationships and has learned from those times they have gone wrong. She finds absolute contentment in things like having a cup of tea with a cousin, or watching some shit on TV with her brothers. She knows how to make people love her because she is funny, undemanding, pleasing to have around and goes out of her way to show appreciation to those she loves and to make the most ordinary occasions into tiny celebrations of what fun it is to be alive. She does this without being nauseating in any way. And she’s good at swearing. She’s sort of a tiny, sweary Buddha.

Anyway, between us we have spent many a tea-and-cake consuming hour working out exactly how to ensure excellence in friendships. Here are our conclusions:

1. Allow friendships to develop naturally, and only be friends with people who make you feel happy and who you can trust.

2. Be a person who makes others feel happy to be around you. And be trustworthy.

3. Work on the assumption that you and your friend/s are on the same side. If someone says something you think is a bit horrible, assume they’re having a bad day or that you’re being paranoid, and don’t dwell on it. If it turns out it was horrible, then don’t be their friend. I discontinued contact with one friend I really liked because she has a habit of occasionally making little critical remarks. Life’s too bloody fantastic to waste any of it around people who make you feel bad. I have not missed her.

4. Don’t be paranoid. Paranoia breeds horribleness (see above and below).

5. Don’t be needy. Neediness is absolutely offputting. If a friend you trust hasn’t contacted you for a while, then assume they are busy or whatever, don’t assume they hate you (if you don’t trust them, why do you want to be their friend?). Real friends can be apart without contact for an unlimited amount of time because they know that the friendship is solid whatever happens, and they know that people sometimes just want to get on with their own lives, because the same applies to them.

6. Build the sort of friendship where it’s possible to say, “I can’t be bothered”, in response to an invitation and nobody will think you don’t love them. Also – if someone says ‘no’, don’t take it personally and don’t keep pushing.

7. Don’t expect or demand too much from each other. I had another friend who I really liked – she was funny, interesting and very clever indeed – but she demanded my time and attention all the time. When we were on our final dissertations at uni, for example, she finished hers first and I was beside myself with stress over mine. Instead of offering me any support, she demanded that I read hers to check it was written properly and got stroppy when I said I couldn’t spare the time. I distanced myself from this friend because she made everything too stressful. I actually miss the good things about her, but they weren’t worth the bad.

8. Make the occasional effort to do something unexpected and lovely. Our friend P once sent me and H a Valentine’s Card each that he’d made from the Niceday stationery catalogue because we always laugh at their stupid name. This made us happy for several weeks.

9. Be comfortable with silence and laugh as much as you can.

10. Any other suggestions?

Rain and dining tables

It rained last night. It rained so much it sounded like a deity of infinite size draining an infinite amount of pasta through a colander of infinite holiness in the sky above my Velux window.

We all love that, don’t we? – lying in a warm bed under a non-leaky window listening to it all going on outside and relishing the fact that we’re not in it. What is left of my heart goes out to people whose homes have flooded in the deluge overnight; it’s pretty damn unpleasant when all the comfort-paraphernalia you have accumulated to protect your family from the outside world is invaded by a seeping, stinking version of that very outside you shored yourself up against. It leaves you with nowhere clean and warm to hide, and everyone needs that.

I’m not naturally the sort of person to count my blessings; I’m much too much of a miserable sod for that, so the closest I ever get to Polyannaism (I’m reasonably certain that’s not a word), is when the rain is hitting my skylight. It triggers a rush of anti-nostalgia for long, drab English winters spent on dripping traveller sites with nothing much to do and only just enough money to chip in for one bottle of Merrydown between me and E so we could get drunk and forget that it was not much of a life.

Those long, grey days bleed into each other in my memory. When we were in Yorkshire, parked up on the moors, E and I would sometimes find ourselves in Todmorden at dusk waiting for a lift back up to site and we’d wander the wet pavements of streets lined with terraced houses, curtains still open as it was not quite night, and lights on as it was not quite day either. The glowy orange of electric light is irresistible  from outside when you’re damp and aimless and only have candles, paraffin and a cold, unlit fire to go back to. Those windows were magic gateways to fantasy worlds of Waltons-style happy families, comfy sofas, hot water from a tap and all those home comforts we had rejected, yet apparently secretly yearned for. E and I were drawn to them like Victorian orphans. If we hadn’t been too well trained we would have squished our faces up against the glass and whined pitifully, “Ere Missus, can you spare alf a crown for a poor omeless pauper?”

Instead we rode back up to the moors through the convoluted and darkening Yorkshire  lanes on the bumpy back of a flatbed truck, holding onto various dogs and becoming saturated with drizzle. We’d arrive back with only just enough light left to go scouting for damp wood to stoke up a hissing fire in the woodburners we had constructed from old fire extinguishers or gas cylinders, but which would soon warm the tiny tin spaces we lived in. Fire is another element that brings out the Polyanna in me. It conquers all kinds of greyness – literal and metaphorical – and makes even the most miserable hovel into a palace in which you can go warmly to whatever it is you have that functions as a bed and listen to the rain hitting the metal of your roof with a feeling of security; however temporary or illusory.

I can’t really remember why we stayed in that life for so long; most of my memories are of bleakness. The other thing we used to do when it was raining – I remember this particularly when we were on some Cornish mining wasteland somewhere, surrounded by nothing but doom grey sky, rocks and browning gorse – was to crowd into my old ambulance (only the girls did this), get off our faces on cider and paint vivid verbal pictures of the places we would rather live. Or rather, place. E and I especially had the same house in our minds. It was big, scruffy, many-roomed and indistinct apart from the garden that E filled with herbs and vegetables and the kitchen which we both saw as clearly as if we were sitting in it. It was large, of course, and furnished as if it had just grown out of history – a bashed wooden floor, a huge old range for cooking on – and the centrepiece of the whole dream was a massive kitchen table with block legs hewn from sleepers, a top several inches fat, and big enough to seat 20 people.

It seems obvious now why we fixated particularly on the table. It’s a symbol, isn’t it, of family living – children and adults all piling in together to produce food for the table. I think we were imagining children even though neither of us at that point had any, or had any conscious wish for them. The table symbolised the dream we had, and  I still secretly have, of living in a massive chaotic family home working together as a community to keep out the rain.

E and I never managed the big chaotic house, but we did manage to live in the same village for a few years and to bring up our children together in gardens and on beaches, which was almost as good, until she moved 300 miles away. We both now have dining tables, but our children are nearly gone and it’s time to look again at our lives and what we want from them. But when it pours down on my skylight and I compare that sound to the soundmemory of rain on a caravan or ambulance roof, I do get that Polyanna moment, just briefly. I might even count a blessing or two.

10 Ways to Deal with an Impending Empty Nest

I have been reading the “How to write a tolerable blog and get people to read it” instructions.

Apparently is advisable to include photographs in your blog because people prefer pictures to words on the whole, or something like that. This is a bit of a letdown for someone who mainly does words, but I do in fact do pictures sometimes as well. I mainly do pictures of three types of things:

1) Things I see in Cornwall which stand out. For example, a set of chairs with tennis balls rammed onto their feet or  some enormous graffiti scrawled neatly across a wall, clearly by an offended middle aged lady: “SHAME ON YOU, EMMA POST”.

2) Other things I see in Cornwall, specifically people with notable faces/headgear/pets/troubling appendages.

3) Days out in Cornwall and its environs, with a particular emphasis on finding ways to have an entertaining time in a county where not much happens on a day to day basis.

Recently, I have been doing a lot of number three. This is because (I am rather embarrassed to admit) I am experiencing ante-empty-nest syndrome. In roughly two months I won’t have any children any more. They will both have packed their spotty kerchiefs, tied them to knobbly sticks and set off into the world to seek their fortunes. This is, of course, an excellent thing and one that children are supposed to do, and it never once occurred to me that I would be the sort of mother who would metaphorically tie an apron round her waist and stand in the doorway weeping into a clean linen handkerchief. But.

Anyway, I have come up with some recommendations for ways to deal with impending nest emptyage. here they are:

1. Hang around waiting for your cat (or someone else’s) to look a bit stupid and immortalise him doing it.

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2) Become a pedant. The pigeon’s WHAT?Image

3) Buy some stick-on googly eyes from Wilkinson’s and find places to stick them that result in puerile merriment.

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4) Buy packets of rubber ducks and follow the same procedure as above

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5) Gather some lovely friends and take photos of yourselves in establishments with shiny cutlery.

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6) Buy paper suits from Poundland and try them on.

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7) Stay in cheap hotels and hide behind things

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8) Write deeply unsuitable words in unsuitable places

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9) Try hula hooping in the Pound Shop

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10) Explore the possibilities of moustaches

11) If all else fails, put a blanket over your head.

I hope that helps.