When I was writing my scenes between two longstanding friends in The Divorce Domino, it occurred to me that sometimes it’s not just the spouse you lose when marriages breakdown. Even old mates, ones you’ve known for years, can fall by the wayside because your circumstances change. Which led me to thinking about the pluses and minuses of people who met you before you’d made any decisions to affect the rest of your life.
On the upside, they knew you when bleach was just something you put on your hair, which makes flapping about with the feather duster now seem a bit too little, too late. And given that they’ve seen you in full-on, out-on-the-town gear - an old nightie, your granddad’s cardigan and a pair of monkey boots – they’re not going to throw their hands up in horror because it’s lunchtime and you’re still in your pyjamas.
They can keep up with the conversation conveyor belt without the need for an ‘I am now moving on to a different topic’ sign because they know your first dog was called Minnie (dreadful breath), their photo album is witness to your teenage penchant for sequins and glitter, they helped you dye your hair pink and blue when you were pretending to like The Clash rather than The Nolans. You don’t need to explain family quirks…they know your parents. And find it hard to break the habit of calling them Mr/Mrs (+ surname) when they meet them…very Chopper bikes and Arctic Roll. Unlike my kids’ friends who call me by my first name and treat me like a waitress in TGI Friday’s.
Undeniably, it’s very relaxing to bandy about names from the past without having to pause in the narrative to explain who fits where. You can hook the name of an old boyfriend out of the ether and on cue, they’ll do a face like they’ve just gulped milk that has gone off - ‘Not the bloke who cut his toenails on the kitchen table?’ ‘The one who ran the market stall and kept coming home with bruised apricots?’ All of which makes it easier to admit to old friends you’ve made mistakes in any area of life because, let’s face it, they’ve spent evenings in the company of the worst ones.
But here’s the rub. They knew you before you airbrushed yourself. Their view of you remains rooted in the growing up years when you saw each other on a daily basis at school or college. In my book, one of the characters wants to set up her own business, yet finds it easier to tell her new friends about her ambitions. Why? Because her best friend has her pigeonholed as a lady who lunches, doesn’t like getting her hands dirty, incapable of hard graft. Old friends find it hard to separate who we were from who we are. And sometimes don’t like it when we try to change.
Going on a diet? Scepticism greets the announcement because they’ve seen the failure of Cabbage Soup, Grapefruit, Blood Type, South Beach…Want your children to go to private school/tutor/orthodontist? Prepare to be reminded of the hours you spent selling the Socialist Worker. And if you ever dare to say you don’t drink much, brace yourself for the night of the Pernod Black/Brandy and Babycham/Tequila slammer story.
I had one friend come to stay who brought a car load of food with her, right down to the olive oil. ‘But you can’t cook.’ True, I couldn’t cook – two decades ago. Survived the whole of university on cheese and pickle sandwiches and muesli. It was a wonder I didn’t get scurvy. But I have a family. Who need to eat. But to her, I’ll always be that person ‘who doesn’t know how to cook’.
So while I love and cherish my longstanding friends, I applaud the ones who met me as my tidier, more domesticated self and who don’t laugh until wine comes out of their noses when I tell them that the highlight of my year is getting a new pantry…