Friends

My friends: where would I be without them? These days, as I’m still in the early stages of finding new friends – and it’s much easier to find pennies lying on the street than it is to find new friends – my old friends support me from afar. They shout from the wings: line prompts, heckles, putdowns, jokes, stage directions. They keep the production going.

There’s the one with the ridiculous sense of humour who sends me funny, random cards for no particular occasion. The one who wears sculptural shoes, sends me recipes and trades stories with me from our past. He, who sends me cute video clips of his 18-month old nephew learning to dance, and another he who sends me glorious, ‘I-love-where-I live’ photographs of north Donegal. There’s the one who is the most positive, optimistic man I know and can do anything with a hammer and a nail. There’s the proponent of the 30-second hug who sends me a six monthly, handwritten, lengthy and reflective letter filled with book recommendations. There’s a really creative one who could probably build herself a new house were she given enough felt and paper. There’s one who really is building his own house (not using felt and paper), and calls me to tell me what vegetables he’s planting in the new plot this year. There’s she who remembers everything from our youth – especially those things I wish she didn’t! There’s the one who knows I will (of course) have a chocolate biscuit with my redbush tea, as she raises my spirits when I see her own indomitable spirit and her full, family life. There’s the one who sets me off on the train with a packed lunch and drops me beautifully composed emails with the perfect words at the perfect time. There’s the one who shares his poetry with me, sometimes framed with a little narrative about which birds are outside of his office window today. There’s the one who encourages me to come here, do this, join in, as she types, “Festival of Ideas, June, how about it?” There’s the one who keeps me looped into the ‘real’ world, stops my free spirit from blowing away and dissolving by sending little bits of work fluttering my way from her email. There’s the one who telepathically seems to know each time I’m travelling back to Ireland and pings off prescient text suggesting we meet for coffee. There’s she who bakes me brown bread, tells me old stories, gives me gardening tips. Then, there’s the one who knows me far too well, she’ll ask, as we settle down for a long chat on the phone – “Are you eating ice-cream?” I usually am. There’s one who tells me that, when the kids are grown up (not long now), she and her husband are going to move to the seaside for a simple life. And there’s she who gives me regular snapshots into life in the wild west of Ireland: how the youngster is getting on at the accordion, how she has recently taken to running the roads. There’s the Yorkshire lass and her devoted four legged companion whose signature sign-off to, ‘keep shining,’ makes me smile. There’s my thoughtful, generous, inquisitive, learning friend who tells me I have taught her how to ‘chat’ on email. There’s one with two beautiful babies under three; she sends me photographs of them, all blonde curls and banana noses. Then there’s the one with the bad back – he’ll be laid low for months and then I’ll receive a late-night email: rolling, lyrical and full of beauty like the Armagh landscape from which he hails. And the one who changed my life nine nine years ago by making a certain introduction; I have a special perch on the kitchen work surface where we talk on the phone – for some reason always in the dark, me anyway. Bless you all, my friends, and those of you whose thumbnail I left out. You are all in my head and my heart.

In the words of Shakespeare: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them onto thy soul with hoops of steel.”

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