Friendships fascinate me. I’m intrigued by friendships that last a lifetime v those that are short and intense, having a big group of friends v one special person, friends who are there no matter what v fair-weather friends, and I’m particularly interested in toxic and one-sided friendships. It probably therefore isn’t a surprise that this is a big theme within my books, and the main theme of the latest release, The Secret to Happiness.
Today I spent a fabulous afternoon in the gorgeous North Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby with a lifetime friend. It’s been 15 years since I last saw Graham, yet we picked up where we’d left off and barely paused for breath for five hours! It was absolutely lovely.
Graham and I were brought up in Guisborough, a market town between Middlesbrough and Whitby. We actually went to the same primary school but weren’t in the same class. I knew who he was but we weren’t friends.
This changed at senior school. We were in the same form class for our 2nd and 3rd year (year 8 and 9 in new money) and were streamed into most of our subjects together too. A friendship quickly formed, helped by us living at the same side of town and therefore being able to easily see each other outside of school. We also started walking to school – a little over two miles away – and would chat incessantly the whole way.
All of my happy memories of my school days involve Graham. I remember laughing until my sides screamed in pain as we tried to make cassette-recordings of conversations for our French homework. It wasn’t so much the French conversation that was funny but the decision to add in sound effects like water pouring and cutlery clinking. A three-minute conversation could take hours to record.
Laughter was such a strong feature in our friendship and I often think that I might not have been able to cope with being bullied at a school if Graham hadn’t been there to joke with and chat to about anything and everything.
Guisborough is flanked on one side by hills and forests and we’d often take off on weekends for a long walk up the forest trails, taking the Cleveland Way across the hills to Roseberry Topping; a couple of hours’ walk each way. Usually we were joined by others on our treks and I look back on those days with such fond memories. In a world before social media and only a handful of channels on TV, walking and talking was how we spent our time and it was lovely.
When school finished, Graham went to the local sixth form and I travelled through to Redcar to study business studies at the technical college. We both went away to university but we stayed in touch, visiting each other at uni and writing to each other (again, in the days before mobile phones, personal email addresses or social media). We stayed in touch after graduation but didn’t see much of each other over the next few years until I moved back to the north and opened my teddy bear shop. Graham was teaching in Leeds and would occasionally come through and visit me in the shop during school holidays. Despite having not seen each other for years, we always picked up where we left off.
So if the friendship was so good, why haven’t we seen each other for 15 years? It’s a good question without a good answer. I suppose life just got in the way. I got married, had a baby, changed job a few times, moved house a couple of times and never seemed to have any time or money to travel to see friends. I’d start each New Year determined that I would make more of an effort to see people, including my family, but the years just seemed to fly past. Then Graham moved to Hong Kong and has been there for the past five years. It made me really appreciate how I should have made much more of an effort to travel to Leeds when he was only a couple of hours away because Hong Kong isn’t quite so handy for a cuppa and cake!
But, today, we met up and it was so great to see him. As I knew we would, we just picked up where we left off. There was so much to catch up on and, of course, we had to do some reminiscing about our school days and the different people we’re still in touch with. All too soon, it was time to go but we’ve promised not to leave it so long next time. He’s back staying with his parents again at Christmas so hopefully we can meet then.
It’s scary to think that we’ve been friends for about 35 years. During that time, so many other friendships have come and gone, some of which have been upsetting to lose, some of whom I still miss. Yet my friendship with Graham has always remained and, although I’m certain it won’t be 15 years before I see him again, I know that, if it was, we’d just pick up where we left off. And that makes me very happy.
Is there someone you haven’t seen in ages? Why not get in touch and see if you can sort something out. You’ll be glad you did. Especially if you can arrange to meet up somewhere as stunning as Whitby. Look at that sky!