There is no measure for such things, For this all Nature slows and sings. from Friendship by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001)
So much is written and sung about romantic love, but love between friends often isn’t celebrated or acknowledged in the same way. In this blog post, listen to some of our conversations, read our stories and reflections on the theme, and share the joy we found in talking about the varied roles that friendship has played in our lives.
We hope you enjoy this lovely audio compilation of the group’s reflections. The first part is an exploration of what friendship means followed by snippets of us celebrating individuals who we feel appreciation for.
Regarding friendships, there are so many types of keys.
There is the double lock one, this takes patience to unlock and the rewards are great if you stick at it. Sometimes one half of the friendship wants to unlock this door straight away but the other half needs time, these keys are difficult to unlock.
If you are lucky enough to find a friend like I did with Esther, with who you can both exchange keys with an innate understanding and trust, those keys are special.
A conversation with Philip Lloyd by Margaret Williams
In primary school I had two particular friends, named Warwick and Kenneth. We spent a lot of time together, outside school hours, cycling and playing in our area, which of course was much more rural than today. The roads at this time were much safer then, so our parents were not worried about this. My sister, Breta, was three years younger than me but we often played together and with her two friends, Margaret and Pat, and we remain very good friends to this day.
When I was old enough, I joined the Cubs, and then later the Scouts, which I really enjoyed and found the boys very friendly though I didn’t make any special friends – perhaps because we were not together for long periods, nor lived close to each other.
I remember a day’s outing with the Scouts to Dunham Massey. Lord Egerton supported the Scout movement and welcomed groups to his property. However, that day was not a success as it poured heavily all day – we certainly couldn’t have practised lighting campfires!
A much more successful outing with the Scouts was a camping trip to the Lake District when we had good weather all week. We climbed Helvellyn and tackled the narrow ridge of Striding Edge. A really wonderful memory of that week was waking up one morning in sunshine and peering out of the tent to the sight of mist filling the valley where the lake should be, looking as though you could walk across it.
Breta and I joined the Youth Hostels Association and made many trips to stay in different hostels, sometimes with other friends. Our very first hostelling night was spent at Ludlow. As we became more efficient as cyclists, and as navigators, we ventured further afield, even as far as a tour of Cornwall – although I think we must have travelled from Manchester by train to arrive there!
A little later we bought Lambretta scooters so that we could cover even more mileage on our outings.
We found that, although the YHA rules did not allow powered vehicles, “ hostellers had to arrive on foot, by cycle, or canoe”, it was possible in Ireland. As I had served part of my national service in the Air Force in Ireland, I was very happy to visit Ireland again, as a civilian, with Breta. We started in Dublin and then travelled to the west coast, then North and across to Ulster and had a really interesting trip. The Youth Hostels were very varied and the wardens were sometimes quite eccentric.
Another shared interest that led to new friends was Scottish Dancing. I enjoyed this very much, although I never attained the dizzy heights of being a member of the demonstration team who performed at festivals etc. I was also a member of the Scottish Singers and this led to an unusual opportunity when the singers accompanied the dancers’ demonstration team to the West coast of the U.S.A. in 1980 and I was lucky enough to be included. We had to wear our kilts, which, in my case, not being Scottish, was the yellow and black of Cornish National Tartan, for the performances. The real Scots wore their own clan tartans.
As will perhaps be seen by this short account of the friendships I enjoyed throughout my long life, my constant and most dear friend has been, and remains, my sister Breta.
Those very special people we have the privilege of sharing some part or parts of our lives with. They can be young children, teens, young adults, middle-aged or older. Maybe in our life for a short time – a season or reason or a person from our childhood or younger years that we have stayed in touch with. They support us – cheer us and share in our joys and sorrows. We may have a particular relationship with an individual – spouse/life partner for example. A new person comes into our lives and we form an affinity with them – our friendship grows and develops.
Sometimes we have to try to learn to let go of our friends especially the special ones – through sickness – bereavement- separation or just drifting apart. Because we are human it can be very painful learning to let go and move on so then we need the help and support of other friends who will help us.
We all have a void inside of us that only these special people can fill.
Friends enable us to love and be loved.
Some of us have the capacity for a number of friends whilst others only have a few. But one thing is for sure one of these friends is usually our best friend or extra special friend who occupies our top spot.
Some people have animal friends whom they hold dear and cherish. Help them through difficult times. There is a saying ‘a dog is a man’s best friend’ in some cases that will be true.
Friends are really necessary for us to be whole people so that we can give friendship and receive it too – being human.
When I was a little girl, friendship meant who I played with and had the most fun with. My strongest memories involve being outside either in the playground, park or nearby fields using all that marvellous giddy energy I had at the time! Who I played with was dictated more by who was nearby and less by who I was most compatible with, so there were as many fallings out as makings up involved in our relationships!
As a teen, through to my twenties, I grew more of a peacekeeper and was also quite insecure. I remember seeking out those who would help me feel better about myself and tried to avoid falling out at all costs. After conversations, I often analysed what had been said and would end up tying myself in knots second-guessing mine and others’ intentions! This was exhausting and I am glad it is part of my past (though I have been known, when tired, to return to the habit!)
In my thirties, I met my husband and we had our son. Family relationships transformed from something I took for granted a little into beautiful sources of laughter, connection and purpose. I think this then really helped me start to enjoy other friendships and the people within them for what and who they were, instead of what I wanted or thought I needed them to be. They were the icing on a cake, rather than the nutrition I needed!
Now in my mid-40s, life, plus the influence of some wonderful friends and family, are all teaching me that friendship is best enjoyed when I focus on what I can give (at least as much, if not more), than what I get out of it. From this learning, I have developed a wide range of friends who I feel deeply appreciative of and love that they know me as a friend in return. Sometimes I have overstretched myself and reached my “relational capacity” (a fancy way of saying I get tired and withdraw!) but after a rest, I notice a boost of energy to be curious, caring and gregarious return. I am back once again to being that child who loved to laugh and play with whoever was nearby and was happy to express herself, even if it meant “falling out” sometimes.
“Friends” is one of those words which always seems to have a qualifying word, or phrase, attached to it. Boy, girl, best, long lost, school, childhood, bosom, casual, old, new, workplace, the list could go on. This indicates the importance of friendships in general but also suggests that the word is lacking in depth of meaning, that is, covering everyone who isn’t in the opposite category, “enemies”. At the session online there was an interesting dialogue about words for friends in other languages particularly German, some of which conveyed a stronger relationship.
This led to a general exploration of the nature of friendships and how they can either survive a lifetime or fade with the changes of life’s circumstances. The closest of ties may be those formed in a shared life changing experience as can be seen by the number of lifetime friendships that are formed in the early teen years of angst and puberty.
There is another aspect to consider on this topic, viz. a person who is very important to us as a coach, mentor or another guide. This person may not fit easily into any “friend” role but who you would nevertheless not wish to downgrade to a mere acquaintance.
The nature of friendship groups was also touched upon how some individuals are outward looking and involved with many different groups whilst others are popular and have many friends seeking them out.
A CHEESE TOASTIE MOMENT I knew at the beginning before I reached the end That you were going to be a lifelong friend Because on the day I met you beneath that shy look I could see hidden chapters in your unread book. I learned you had crossed the continent, lived an unfamiliar life And that you had left England to become an Arabic wife. I could see the cogs were turning as the drama did unfold You told me you had secrets some of them quite old You told me you held forbidden love you had a heart that ached And you didn’t have the courage it needed you to take. But we formed a friendship and you read the Quran Soon to realise your interpretation was more than The words that lay before you much deeper were the facts Your life much more eventful, much more poignant than that. So, we formed a bond so precious our friendship hard to break Together we are hand in hand and a future we make. Now on every Friday we meet and have a brew We realised we didn’t bite off more than we could chew So now over a cheese toastie our souls are laid out flat We talk about our children, hair styles and all of that. As we listen to our R&B and put the world to rights The times flown past, its one o’clock, and time for our first bite. ©P.OMOBOYE
“Picture the first time you met a friend”, Jolene said, as one of the prompts in the introduction this week. I have such a vivid memory of meeting my friend Imelda, the start of a strong friendship lasting nearly forty-four years now.
I was nervous about becoming a student again, worried that I was old at 23. My parents had driven me and my belongings to the large university-owned house in Sheffield where I’d been allocated a room for my postgraduate year. Going through the door of the kitchen, I met Imelda who was instantly friendly and chatted away to me and my parents. They left, reassured that I’d be OK, and Imelda and I soon became firm friends. A month later, she invited me and another friend to her 21st birthday party in Manchester and we were warmly welcomed by her large Irish family. A year or so later, the three of us were all working or studying in the city, enjoying nights out at “The Conti” where the dance floor simply had a jukebox rather than a DJ. You often had to wait a long time for your chosen track to be played, but the bar was cheap.
I joined Free Range Housing Cooperative in Whalley Range and enjoyed living in a shared house with other friends.
Later, Imelda joined too and our household of five women worked incredibly well. We took it in turns to cook and had many a supportive conversation around the kitchen table after work, watched TV together in the living room (we loved The Golden Girls and Victoria Wood: as seen on TV) and shared evenings out together. Gradually, we moved to live with partners, but most of us have stayed in the area and keep in regular contact. We usually all meet up to celebrate one another’s birthdays and the lockdowns didn’t stop us from meeting up via Zoom – sometimes even including bingo or dancing!
We’ve shared lots of happy times, as well as supporting each other through difficult and challenging times. I like making new friends, but I find the comfort of my long-term friendships immeasurable. They’re part of who I am.
In both the meeting at Chorlton Library and the meeting online there were some very interesting discussions about friends and friendship and the difference between having a friend and being friendly with someone. In particular, in the Zoom group, Joe told us that in German the word ‘freund’ is not used as loosely as we use the word friend in English, and in German also there is a word for acquaintance which is used much more often to describe someone you know well but is not as close as a friend would be. In English, the word acquaintance sounds much more formal and may be used to describe someone who you perhaps only know through work for example. I remembered then that in French the word ‘proche’ means a family member or a close friend, someone who is literally close to us. So, in this way relationships can be determined by language.
On a personal level, I thought of three of my friends who I have known since my school days. One since the age of seven, and two since the age of eleven. None of them lives in Manchester now, so we don’t meet frequently but when we do, the years fall away and it is as if we had just met the week before. Long term friends like these have a shared history but the friendship does not rely solely on nostalgia or shared memories. Life has moved on and gone in different directions for all of us but although organic the basis of our friendship, warmth, ease, respect, mutual support and most importantly trust remains. If you tell a friend a confidence the last thing you want is for it or you to become the talk of the neighbourhood! (The talk of the wash-house, as my mother would have said).
One of these friends once gave me a little book called To a Special Friend. Just a thin book that you can sometimes buy from a greetings card shop, which has short quotes or extracts from longer poems about the nature of friends. Some of the quotes are witty, some are meaningful. Just one or two of those quotes:
Life is nothing without friendship. (Cicero, 100-43 BC)
Friend derives from a word meaning ‘free’. A friend is someone who allows us the space and freedom to be. (Debbie Alicen)
A friend will tell you she saw your old boyfriend – and he’s a priest. (Erma Bombeck b 1927)
And lots more.