Monday, 31 August 2009

Old friends

A couple - good friends - came for a barbeque. It was high time - my five-year-old had been a babe of six months, when we last sat and broke bread together at our place (another house: one of the myriad addresses in the nomadic existence we'd had since settling down in this country half a decade ago). But though the location has changed, this long-standing friendship, thankfully, has not.

There's no substitute for the glow of close company, forged over years - the type of bond which doesn't break, even with a four-and-a-half-year gap between physically meeting (and often many many months inbetween, twixt emailing or 'phoning). And so we sit, indulging in a dance of catch-up: news versus reminiscing. An easy balance of old experience and new.

Wine flows, happiness and laughter and shared jokes trip off the tongue. There's a slightly charred smell of cooking, over the sweet perfume of fallen apples littering the grass around the tree. This could never be less than an all-day thing. From late lunch, talk about life, business and ambitions wrapped in snippets of children's play (ours - they have none - yet). Sitting at the green wrought-iron table in the shade with flashes of footballs kicked past, little voices calling: the younger generations thus occupied, we had our discussions in peace as third helpings were devoured and bottles of beer, sparkling with cool condensation, popped. Elbows propped. Bliss.

When we got married - during our actual wedding reception - this couple sat outside the venue on a Caribben garden wall, for hours during a similarly stretched-out afternoon. They missed the revelry - engaged in a fierce summit-meeting about their future and their relationship. Whether our wedding had sparked this tete-a-tete, we never knew, and never asked, just chided them (gently, and with good humour) for being absent for the toasts and, especially, the cake piled high with flowers and soaked in rum! So many years later, as our marriage (as do all, I suspect) grinds with painful effort over rocky terrain, their union (undefined by vows and paperwork) is as solid (and as joyful) as a honeymoon. And their co-founded business is going from strength to strength.

My friends started a venture from nothing - and this, even, after suffering huge losses, financial and emotional. His inheritance, sole legacy of a father's early death, was gobbled up by an unwise investment involved with dodgy real-estate deals in Asia, spectural scammers who disappeared into the burble of low-life India leaving lives ruined and purses void. The fact that my husband's family was (unwittingly) involved in various introductions could have left our friends sour, but instead they soldiered on and six months later put everything they had into a new hope for the future. An all-or-nothing calculated gamble, for him, a second start-up, with the currency of the serial entrepreneur: brash hope. Which paid off. And it's prospering.

She's thirty-eight now, and it's her brainchild, her baby, she who had the light-bulb moment in the first place. Now, thoughts of international expansion, of franchising, of uber-branding. But other thoughts, too: of a real family, flesh-and-blood, the pattering of little feet. In a way, she envies (or at least, aspires to) what I have (a ready-made family now, no more pregnancies or nappies or potty-training. Two well-adjusted, bright children at school).

And I, more than in a way, envy (or at least, aspire to) what she has: a business of her own, a commercial legacy and a success in entrepreneurship.

Well, I've been doing a spot of reading - Anthony Robbins, whom I won't start to hype, just check it out yourselves. I'm going to work with what I have, just as my friends did. That doesn't, of course, mean you cannot shoot for the stars, or have huge dreams. It just means that the building must fit its foundations as well as the time and materials available. To dream, you must first be realistic and draw up your drafts and plans. As the daughter of an architect, it's a discipline which I should (repeat, should) be familiar with... by now.

Our friends left late. Lunch morphed into afternoon snacks, morphed into dinner. Still-warm late summer breeze morphed into a slight dampness, overcome gradually by strings of chill wind signalling cardigans and wraps and eventually a decamping onto the couch to watch sport and continue fragmented discussions. Light excitement and close engagement and animated chat, evolved into heavy warm contentment and the satisfied silences preceeding the end of an enjoyable day of friendship reunited.
By the time the hubble of voices departed through the front door, kisses and promises stamped, it was past the kids' bathtime and dark outside.

Interaction with friends at this stage in life oft includes the realisation that we can all wish for aspects of each others' lives. This of course is an opportunity to bring into focus what we've achieved already individually. And to understand that with the differing experiences gained, we're in the position to support each other in calibrating our aims further over the years or months to come. True partnership works this way. Having gone through university together, these friends and I happily share a real desire to help one another with the 'assignment' of life, shared technology projects for grumpy tutors fortunately being long gone!

Somehow, I suspect, there won't be a four-and-a-half-year gap until the next time we meet. We're back in each others' lives again, and ready to exchange. Mutual exchange. Support. Friendship. True friendship.


  1. Thanks, my painter in residence! a compliment from you is always highly prized. People - check out Sarah, whose ordinary name belies the wonders to be found when you click on it...Helen x

  2. You are my publicist, Helen- official, you're hired.
    Fee? Mutual appreciation!