Being an only child with no siblings to play with, friends became important to me at an early age. Once I went to Primary School at the age of 6, I soon discovered that being good at sport, especially football, was a good way to make friends.
But I was below average at sport.
So I made friends with the other kids who lived near me, but didn’t necessarily go to the same school. Playing out, as we called it, was done on the streets in the London borough I lived in. If there was an older boy in the group, he was considered to be in charge of the rest of us. Girls rarely featured, unless as the younger sister of one of the boys who was having to look after her.
Looking back, I realise that few if any of those street playmates ever became friends for more than a few months, perhaps a year. It was when I went to the secondary school at the age of 11 that I soon made real friends. These were the friends who came to my house, and I went to theirs. I got to know their families as well as I knew my own. We ate at each other’s houses, and spent most of the school holidays together.
Once we were in our teens, we dated girls together, drove around in each other’s cars, and even went on holidays together, or in small groups. Only leaving school and going to work started to break those bonds, followed by marriages, and moving to different areas a long way from each other.
However, two of those friends are still among my closest friends. We have been that way for over 59 years.
Another ‘category’ of friends would include work colleagues. Some of those are still in touch, and I see one of them around once a year. Another one speaks to me on the phone every month. He is in his 80s now, but we chat as if we are both still at work together in 1981.
Other friends include the group I once shared a house with, when I was 19. I wrote about meeting up with some of them again recently, one of whom I had not seen for 50 years. But it was as if we had just ‘left the room’ for a moment.
Getting older also means losing friends to illness, and that sad list gets longer every year. That is only to be expected, but that realisation doesn’t make it any easier.
Unlike family, great friends rarely judge you, and almost never have expectations of you. You can forget to call them, cancel appointments to see them, and it is always okay. You catch up when you can, no hard feelings. Modern times have given us email and text to help communicate. Before those, we had real letters, and landline phone calls. You had to make the effort, but it was worth that effort.
Since 2012, I have also made Blogging Friends. Genuine close communication with people I have never met, and most likely never will meet. But those friendships are as real as if I had gone to school with them, shared a house with them, or worked alongside them.
True friends are worth their weight in gold.