The Gift of Friendship

Three women wearing sunhats in pool, rear view (B&W)

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.
Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” 

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Was there ever a truer line than John Lennon’s “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” in Beautiful Boy? Its origin can be traced back to a 1957 Readers Digest article by the American writer and cartoonist Allen Saunders (thank you, Wikipedia), but the sentiment holds good, no matter who the author.

After four and a half years of stress trying to sell my Cardiff house, I made so many plans in the summer of 2016. With debts cleared, finally being mortgage free, I started to work on so many projects that had been on the back burner. A screenplay, TV series, a novel. I finished writing a book about being broke (heck, if it was going to happen, I might as well try to make money out of it).

Then, 2017 came. Life that happened while I was busy making other plans. It was a year in which I lost several people, one my oldest friend from school, Shelley. My mother had an accident and, while I was caring for her and rushing around, I had one, too; I am currently nursing cracked ribs and am unable to travel. All those Air Miles I planned to use sit languishing in my Virgin Atlantic account, where I log in, daily, dreaming of where they might take me, had life not interfered with those damned plans.

But I am lucky in that I am a writer. We need material; it’s our lifeblood. My childhood fantasies of sitting in an attic, producing masterpieces (between bouts of contemplating suicide, naturally) are long gone. You have to live. With that comes pain, anguish, suffering, fear – the things that every human endures, in different forms. But there is also joy, surprise, fulfilment, energy, happiness, contentment – so many truly great experiences to be had on a day-to-day, even hourly, basis.

This will go down as the year in which I discovered the extent of friendship. During my most difficult times, Facebook has been a godsend. I have been overwhelmed, moved beyond belief and genuinely surprised by people’s kindness: old and new friends, complete strangers, all expressing genuine concern and, regularly, offering practical help and support.

I have made new friends as a result: people I would probably never have met, were it not for the circumstances that brought us together. Relationships with old friends have strengthened as we have found ourselves sharing similar experiences. Those conversations we once had about how well the property market had served us have given way to ones about the difficulties of elderly parents; the days of wondering where we would buy our second home in warmer climes have been reduced to watching A Place on the Sun on Channel 4 Catch Up.

Seeing my mother struggle with growing older has made me fearful of the inevitable, but then I remember how depressed Mum was at reaching 40. I’ve always tried not to dwell on things I cannot change, and I have had – and continue to have – a better life than most people. I’ve been to so many places and lived in countries many simply dream of visiting for a couple of weeks holiday a year.

They are choices that have not come without a price, and dealing with problems without the support of a partner is, I have come to realise, tougher than it looks. When you are single and work from home, the onus is on you to do so much more than you actually can – physically and emotionally. That’s when accidents happen – as I’ve just discovered, to my cost.

The decision to rent a house back in Bath, where I once lived for 11 years, was taken in order to be closer to Mum, were anything to go wrong. It’s therefore ironic that she spent Christmas by herself in her house and I in mine, owing to our respective injuries. I still have my New York apartment (and will keep it – I still call New York home), but I can honestly say I’ve loved being back in the UK, too. I left Bath under a cloud in 2008 when I was burgled twice in one week and my neighbour was raped at knifepoint at 6pm, coming back from work.

I’ve now reconnected with old friends and made many new ones. Yesterday, by chance, I bumped into Nerys, my friend and neighbour from Coity, where I grew up. We hadn’t seen each other for 40 years and laughed non-stop. She reminded me of the plays I used to write and make them perform in our back garden (Mum tells me that making my brother be a dying swan was a particular favourite).

We talked of Auntie Mimi and Auntie Gwen, who we used to visit in order to get sweets, laughing hysterically at what we now realise was Auntie Gwen’s Alzheimer’s (“Those are nice socks, Nigel,” she persistently told my brother). We talked of collecting tadpoles; the horrid woman who, literally held the keys to the castle and would never let us have them (we learned how to scale the walls); the scary woman in the post office; Coity school, where the headmaster told us that we weren’t clever if we weren’t wearing glasses by the time we were seven.

I’ve rediscovered the Garrick’s Head, the theatre pub in which Keith Waterhouse and I shared so many happy times. I have a great local in the Pulteney Arms, which shows rugby and has a great quiz on Monday nights. Now, as a sidebar, can anyone explain why everyone, and I mean everyone, who says, “I’ve got Geography covered” in a team turns out to know absolutely zilch and couldn’t tell its Asia from its Elba. Just saying.

So, on this last day of the year, thank you to what I will call The Year of Friendship. Every word, every good deed, every offer of help, accommodation, holidays etc. etc. has been truly breathtaking; the milk of human kindness has been a veritable dairy farm, and I thank you from every fibre of my heart.

This year wasn’t what I had in my plans; but life happened. 

And living is always better than the alternative.

A very happy 2018 to you all.