Theo, one of my oldest – in the sense that I’ve known her for ever – friends is having a big birthday today. As well as getting her an embarrassingly small birthday present because it was easy to post in Bordeaux I got to thinking how very lucky I am in that I still have two very good friends whom I have known from my earliest childhood.
While it’s true that probably the longest relationship I’ll have with anyone in my life is with my brother, who’s four years older than me, (and to that end I wish he’d give up the cigars), my memories of Celestria and Theo go back nearly of far. In fact they are much clearer than those of my brother. He was always around so there’s nothing in particular that stands out, whereas I can remember being taken to play with Celestria when I was three. My first encounter with Theo when we were both four is even clearer. We’d been to the pantomime in Nottingham and my parents’ car broke down at her uncle’s house. Theo and I had to share a bed and we had an energetic kicking session. She won. I fell out. You don’t forget something like that.
Theo and I shared a governess for two energetic years – we showed the boys in the village on several occasions that girl power ruled when it came to fighting, and were at the same boarding school for another two. Luckily for me I was sent to another establishment where you actually learnt something when I was 13. It wasn’t that long ago but there was still a distinct feeling amongst our parents’ generation that it wasn’t actually necessary for girls to be anything other than decorative. We’d see each other occasionally in the holidays, usually at teenage parties, picking up from where we’d left off – and it’s been like that ever since. We travelled out to Australia together when we were 21, having really not socialised much for the couple of years before, but somehow absolutely confident that we be good travelling companions. Amazingly enough, I don’t remember one row.
We’ve been living in different countries for twenty years now and months can go by with not a lot of communication then a comment on Facebook will lead to one of those telephone calls that leaves the OH shaking his head and wondering what women can find to talk about. And at such length. It’s the same with Celestria whom I’ve seen even less of over the years as she lives too far away to make quick visits viable when I am in England, even so when we do meet we drop straight back into that instant familiarity that comes from knowing someone for a long time and having a wealth of shared memories.
Of course if it hadn’t been for our parents knowing each other and thinking that we were ‘suitable’ as playmates our friendships would never have got off the ground. That’s life when you’re four. But it’s not just propinquity and our parents’ approval that is responsible for our still being friends; I grew apart from and lost interest in my other childhood companions long ago.
I’ve made some wonderful and very good friends as I got older, especially after we moved to France which give the lie to that gloomy shibboleth that you make all your friends by your late twenties; after that they’re acquaintances. Happily not so for me, and I trust not for others either because life has changed and I doubt many of the younger generation get the chance to make lifelong friends in the way my generation did. You need total stability for that with everyone’s parents settled in one place so that you don’t form a tight bond over a shared love of The Worst Witch only to find that Mummy or Daddy’s job means they have to move three hundred miles away. Children today might have much more exciting lives than I did – “creative boredom” could well be the watchword for my childhood – but there are some advantages to the old days.
Still having friends with whom you shared your early childhood is one of them.