Talking late into the night over dinner, conversation swirling in any and every direction, setting the world to rights and reflecting on life. Ah! Sometimes we are just in the mood for a big, long, rambling chat. So it was with S. and me last night. Eventually, in the restaurant, they did that thing – I thought it was unique to bars – where they turn the lights off and on quickly, a signal for us to leave. We laughed, wrapped ourselves up, and headed down the Royal Mile, still talking while walking. This morning, as I mull back over our chat, I’m humming a song from the seventies by Paul Simon: an introspective song (as lots of his are) about meeting an old flame on the street, just by chance. “I met my old lover / On the street last night / She seemed so glad to see me / I just smiled / And we talked about some old times / And we drank ourselves some beers / Still crazy after all these years.” This was one of our conversation swirls: when you unexpectedly bump into someone from your past.
Has it happened to you? What did you do? Did they walk on by, not recognising you? Did you dive behind a lamppost, or did you delight in the chance encounter? We all change physically, some more, some less. But does the essence of us really change? We take on responsibilities: children, mortgages, jobs where we might have to hire and fire, and we pull on a cloak of being ‘in charge’. Then when we meet someone from our past, someone who knew us from before we took on the weighty, worldly trappings of adulthood, are we worried about being rumbled? C. told me about a guy she had known in her youth. They recently met at a very grown-up, earnest and serious medical conference. He used to be in a band, and was fairly wild and experimental – in the way that 18 year olds were, back then. She knew him straight away, but it took him a moment or two longer to place her. It was quickly established (body language, a look, one word) that reminiscing was not to be part of their exchange. Clearly, he didn’t want to be remembered from back then; he wanted the old personae to be wiped clean; in this situation, at least. He wanted it to be known that he was certainly not ‘still crazy after all these years’.
Before I moved across to Edinburgh, I met an old boyfriend late a night when we were both buying milk in the local filling station. “Do you remember you and J. took me and A. cliff jumping?” I asked him, “and A. hurt her coxcsis bone, couldn’t sit down for weeks.” M. looked out at me from under his woolly hat that was pulled down so low I almost hadn’t known him. He nodded, crazy eyes dancing with the happy memory. His eager look didn’t match his words: “I wouldn’t do that now for all the tea in China.” I wasn’t so sure. He planted a kiss on my forehead and wished me well with the move over the Irish Sea. I was so glad to see him I just smiled.
I have friends who are lawyers, head teachers, accountants, run restaurants, and each time I meet them, I am so grateful to find they are still a little bit wild and crazy and subversive after all these years. I know there is work to be done, dogs to be walked, dinners to be cooked, and cars to be serviced, but please don’t lose your touch of craziness, not after all these years.