I wake from a long sleep to heavy rain and a stiff back. For a moment I wonder if they are related. Can my body predict the weather? Then I remember yesterday’s Pilates session to which I had creakily returned after too long a break. Thank goodness – I’m not sure I want to be the sort of woman who can smell the wind coming, not yet; that’s for when I am old and wise. Shortly, I must head for the station. Willing the rain to cease, I gather the necessaries for a weekend away, for a weekend of visiting. Isn’t it the stuff of life – paying visits to ones friends? I come from a culture of dropping by; I am familiar with the, ‘I was just passing’ visits. Often my phone calls home are punctuated by my mother’s list of who has paid her a visit that day. I can see the kettle boiling and the tin of homemade shortbread being opened, only to discover a coating of sugary crumbs in an empty: all gone, eaten by the grandchild who came to stay last weekend. The embarrassment of not having anything to offer might be tempered with a joke: “You’ll be away telling the country that I didn’t even ask if you had a mouth on you.” (It took me years to work out what that meant.)
Not that I am dropping by unscheduled (well, I might), as those friends I am to visit know I am coming, but there is something about the impromptu dropping by that is intensely human, warm and connecting. I know full well it can test us to be hospitable when it is unplanned, that sometimes we just want to retreat, hole up within our own four walls and watch television. But whether you are the visitor or the visited, there are few people who don’t benefit from a little company or the sight of a different face from time to time. Maybe you are reading this with horror, conjuring up a list of callers that you would rather stay put, watch the teatime news in their own home, but I think we lose something of our basic humanity and ability to connect when we stop calling on friends, or when we don’t keep a few pieces of shortbread in the tin, just in case.
This time last year, when I made the same trip, I visited M. and we walked through an other-worldly, landscaped walkway in Sutton-on-the-Forest. Woodland animals and goblins were carved into the tree stumps, and we admired a tangle of rhododendron branches knotted together like snakes at the bottom of a sack. M. told me stories from her life, interspersed with quieter moments where we stopped to admire the early daffodils, or the last of the snowdrops. This year it will be an indoor visit as she’s not well, but I look forward to it no less for that.
I stretch (my back feels looser), take quick look out of the window (the rain has stopped), zip up my bag (have I got everything?). Ok, I’m coming to see you all, I’ll bring the biscuits!
The Pleasures of Friendship, by Stevie Smith
The pleasures of friendship are exquisite,
How pleasant to go to a friend on a visit!
I go to my friend, we walk on the grass,
And the hours and moments like minutes pass.