The purpose of this visit to Australia is not to be a tourist but to see my friends. Some I haven’t seen for 21 years, others I saw briefly for a meal last year or the year before. Others, their children have stayed with me in Portugal or in the UK and I like keeping in touch with friends through the next generation – it gives a feeling of continuity to the relationship. In fact, my oldest friend is the son of my parents’ best friends and we have managed to keep that relationship alive, which is a magical thing, almost like family.
I have thought a lot about friends and friendship and why it is that we select, collect, call it what you will, certain people on life’s journey and they stay friends for life no matter how infrequently you may see them. What is it that makes this relationship work? According to the Oxford dictionary a friend is “a person with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically one exclusive of sexual or family relations” and friendship is “the state of being friends”. I am sure that my conclusions are nothing startlingly revelatory but certainly have given me food for thought.
My friends have an irreverent sense of humour and a great laugh. They do not take themselves too seriously but that does not exclude them from being very professional as they are a wonderful group of achievers but they seem to be able to do the day job and have plenty left over for the rest of the important things in life. I think that means that they can always find time for their friends and consider them as an important ingredient in life’s mix. It means that they know you well enough to tell you that they can’t talk now but will always remember to call you back later. Perhaps they are just good at time management.
Communication is important but I’ve met men who call you every night and text you all the time and it adds nothing to the quality of the friendship. Real friends may not be in contact for months but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t thinking of you, it’s just not necessary to be in contact all the time. How many times has a friend come unbidden into your thoughts and you pick up the phone on the spur of the moment and they say to you “I was just thinking about you”. It is really uncanny but happens all the time. There must be a psychic connection somewhere.
Common experiences and interests are obviously things that bind you; from all the girls that I went to grammar school with there a handful who remain close today and we obviously have more in common than just the same school. Many of my friends are gardeners, love the countryside and all things in the natural world. A connection with the earth is an important bond. Since arriving in Australia I have been put to work re-potting plants, laying terraces and planting out shrubs, cleaning out gutters and gathering kindling – who knew? Doing stuff together is also important in building and strengthening the bonds and ties. I can look at my garden and know that I got that cutting from Bev and those tomato plants from Muriel – how nice is that to have a growing and living memory!
Having time in Oz has given me the opportunity to do more with my friends and it has been wonderful. We have done the little things in life like go to the supermarket and plan meals, we have had our hair done together, we have admired the flowering jacarandas from the train and remembered that when I arrived in Australia the last time the jacarandas were in bloom, we have sweated in the yoga and pilates classes and then gone out to eat pizza and drink copious quantities of wine afterwards. We can dig out the old photos and laugh at how thin we were compared to now and yes, I remember that dress, that beach, that holiday. We can pour another glass of wine and laugh – wonderful.
Friends are kind to each other and I think that the lesson is that we treat our friends as we wish to be treated. There is no envy or jealousy or covetousness (just have to use that word) people are what they are and whether they have a bigger or smaller house, more or less money, a better figure or all their own teeth does not matter a damn. You love them as they are and they love you.
So a Christmas message to all my friends, I love you all. The ones that I have left behind in England have been great in supporting me during my travels by email and WhatsApp. My new friends in India, I miss you all but know that we will keep in touch in the future. For those in Australia, the years that have kept us apart are not important. We are still friends and you have all been wonderful in welcoming me back.
However, just one bone to pick I lost 5 kilos in India and will probably gain 6 kilos in Oz – how is that fair?
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