Old Friends

I love the part of being home that allows me to meet up with old friends, small reunions that taste so much sweeter after these long months of social confinement. The days of the open door and of ‘come on in’ have not quite returned, but the outdoor replacements – beaches and backyards, park benches and headlands – work well as long as the weather holds (and even when it doesn’t!). One evening I sat with S. in the dying moments of the day, dead-headed the pink daisy plant, giving breath to the new blooms and dissecting the day in easy companionship. Another day I met R. in a rainy plaza in Belfast and we wandered through a slightly unkempt Botanic Gardens with ragged borders and long grass and I realised that public parks are just like the rest of us: in need of a lockdown haircut, a trim, a tidy up. We listed the ‘do-you-remembers’ as we walked on up past Queen’s University, stern and unwelcoming in redbrick quarantine, its heavy double doors into the quad shut tight, the drizzle pushing us onwards to find somewhere for tea under an awning. But often the weather has smiled on my outdoor reunions, like the morning I had coffee in the garden with H. and we discussed the mystery of young people today – were we like that too? Small confidences exchanged with another friend sitting on a bench looking out the harbour mouth at the fishing boat that was dipping in time with my lurching body, me feeling seasick at the sight of it rising and falling, then people watching at our table outside the Arcadia where the wind caught our crisps tipping half of them out for the gulls who would swoop when we left. And the barbecue. The barbecue! With old friends and new friends who feel like old friends, and faces appearing at the fence, and small children hip wiggling to Leo Sayer and me deciding I can keep up with them (I’m in a spin, you know, Shaking on a string, you know, You make me feel like dancing) until I land in an inelegant heap in the corner, spun out, strung out, wrung out, done out. And although I might feel a little on the delicate side this morning, I don’t care, because I’ve been with my friends having the best time. There’s a little coda at the end of the Simon and Garfunkel song, Old Friends, that says: ‘Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.’ Too true. Years from today I will remember my old friends.

Old Friends/Bookends, Simon and Garfunkel

Old friends, old friends,

Sat on their parkbench like bookends

A newspaper blown through the grass

Falls on the round toes

of the high shoes of the old friends

 

Old friends, winter companions, the old men

Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sun

The sounds of the city sifting through trees

Settles like dust on the shoulders of the old friends

 

Can you imagine us years from today,

Sharing a parkbench quietly

How terribly strange to be seventy

 

Old friends, memory brushes the same years,

Silently sharing the same fears

 

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence, A time of confidences

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph

Preserve your memories; They’re all that’s left you

 

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