I’ve lost two friends

through the pandemic years, one a married woman with a husband and two sons she loves and extended family – I think just consumed with the business of survival.  I am sure I miss her more than she misses me.  The second was a single woman my own age whom I knew for ten years, who was one day so disagreeable to me that I snapped “You are a wonderful human being” and hung up.  The break had been coming, I had been trying ignore it and there it was.

Friendship comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes

and I am purist about it.  If we don’t meet, it is a well disposed relationship but we are not, in my opinion, friends.  I like to see the whites of your eyes multiple times, spend time, assess, look at the body language, listen to the speech patterns and learn the history admitted and discovered.    There are degrees of intimacy involved, up to and including nothing of any import, just comfort.  Some you feel instantly disposed to and you always will be.  Some start like that but it doesn’t last.  Some you outgrow.  The things that bind you to others change: paths diverge and it’s never the same.  Some last for years and then it just doesn’t work anymore.  Worse still trying to fix it finishes it.  I once bought a sweater rather than listen to a friend tell me how wonderful Boris Johnson was in the street.  We are still friends – she doesn’t know I evaded her – but politics and money are off the table.  As Joe E Brown

says at the end of Some Like It Hot “Nobody’s perfect.”

I don’t think I am sentimental about friendship.  If you share opinions and interests, even just a few and are willing to spend time to talk – you have a friendship.  No input ? Benign goodwill maybe but the big flexor muscles of friendship are missing.

Other than books and occasional things on tv, I have been borne up through two years of pandemic by telephone calls from friends.  And sometimes not.  Howard came to dinner (dinner/hot, supper/cold – yes, Wal) last week, occasioning flat panic.  I hadn’t cooked anything substantive for yonks, had something promising to start with in the freezer and caught part of a Nigel Slater cookery programme by chance which gave me a steer on seasoning.

Though an hour before Howard arrived I was as twitchy as a horse’s rump under attack by a horsefly. 

But from the moment this frequently difficult man arrived, we began to talk.  His presentation of gifts began “We don’t have nice shops so I just bought everything that looked promising.  Throw the chocolates in the fridge, do you like grapes – these looked nice, here’s the cheese and where’s the bottle opener ?” And we never looked back.    The food worked, the wine was wonderful and your correspondent got what my father used to call “nicely” and fell asleep in a chair

after he left.

I love Christmas but I don’t expect it to make up for all we have lost.   The last few weeks of getting to Christmas I have always found very challenging because, although if you’re catering several of you, you need that time for preparation, present buying, gift wrapping etc., there is also a sense of wishing that time past so you could get to The Main Event.  If I got one thing out of the pandemic apart from something resembling fingernails, it was a real sense that I could live one day at a time

and I was much happier doing so.

It’s not easy, maybe impossible, if you are on any kind of schedule but if you are not, you can really put your energies into your life as it unfolds.    There was the man at the Salvation Army who told me, yes, they’d be in the square with buckets, as usual.  “Good” I said. “Much more to do with Christmas than overdecorated windows …”  “God love you, girl” he said.  And two young women from Saudi stopped me in the street to say ”We want to look like you when we grow up !”  No parcels under the tree were ever more appreciated. 

“The Gift of the Magi by O.Henry”


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