Old friends are the best friends, and I’m truly blessed to have so many of them. The two longest-standing are Gillian, whom I met in 1973 when we were in Year Seven in Narrabeen Girls’ High School (as it was then, before it went co-ed), and Pep, whom I met in 1977, just as I was matriculating out of Cromer High School and into the University of NSW, where I spent some happy years studying stuff that was useless in practical terms but enormous fun to do.
Gillian ended up becoming a high-powered bureaucrat despite a tentative and uncomfortable start to adult life, and Pep, born into a medical family, was the daughter who rebelled and decided on an artistic lifestyle rather than a medical one. I rarely see either of them now, thirty or thirty-five years on – but when I do see either of them it’s as if no time at all had passed, and we chatter sixteen-to-the-dozen as though we’d never been apart. With Pep in particular, the friendship is enriched by my fondness for her sister who occasionally will spend a year or two working as a locum approximately in my area (always a special treat!) and her mother, and by the complexity and quirkiness of my relationship to one of her brothers, whom I once narrowly escaped marrying. And I think of Gillian every time I walk into the branch of a bank I deal with which is managed by her sister, who will still always come out of her office and say hello every time I turn up.
New friends are delightful, but old friends really enhance life. As in the cases of Pep and Gillian, I know for certain and for sure, that no matter how much time passes before we meet again, we will always still care for each other as much as we ever did, and have outrageous amounts of fun in each other’s company.
It’s funny: I tend to think of those two as my “old friends” and everyone else as my “new friends”, but some of my new friends are old friends, too. There’s my mate Niall, a guy a few years older than me, whom I know because his son went to the same pre-school as my daughter. Both our kids have left school now and are both on-track and ambitious for careers in the Defence Forces, so Niall and I must have known each other for around fifteen years at least. We’ve watched each other grow older and more spherical as time passes, and today we still do what we did when our pre-schoolers were running half-naked through our houses: we love a good argument, we talk non-stop, we eat too much, we drink too much coffee together, and we’ll stay up all night arguing politics or philosophy. If you tried to imagine someone completely different to me, Niall is as close as you’ll come to my direct opposite, and I value the friendship highly.
Nowdays he and I are no longer in the same region, and for quite a while we weren’t even in the same state: now I live in the warm, muggy, overpopulated, waterlogged coastal strip and he lives in the High Country, but every so often one or the other of us will drive to the other person’s region (more often him to me), and sleep on the other person’s lounge for a few nights. Just this morning Niall left after a stay of a few days, and it feels quite odd to have a largely silent house and to be able to spend consistent time on the computer catching up on emails and so on without talking to him. He’ll be down again another time, and I’ll make it up to his part of the world, hopefully not in winter.
I must admit I was naughty this morning, and left the house before he woke up even though I knew he’d be leaving in the morning. I’m a Bad Friend, you say? Absolutely! But I had other new-old friends to catch up with. I started using computers as word-processors in about 1981 – my partner at the time was Australian second-in-charge of the computer division of a well-respected electronic company, so it was easy enough for me to have the best technology on the market at the time for the lowest possible price, even before HDDs had been developed and we were all still running on Dual Floppies, with our software diskettes in Drive A and our data diskettes in Drive B.
By 1989, before the general public weas really aware of the internet and it was an in-secret in the academic world, I was using state of the art superfast 2400 baud modems to connect with computer networks the world over through local BBSs and communicate with any number of people who shared my interests and passions whom I would never otherwise have had a chance to get to know, and within a very few years I was running a BBS of my own, The Witches’ Hovel.
One of the networks I brought into The Witches Hovel and my then-partner brought into their two BBSs Gwathorn’s Cave and Gnosis BBS, was PODSnet, an acronym for the Pagan/Occult Distribution System Network which was a worldwide net catering to people interested in spiritual development. And through PODSnet I met a great many people who became firm friends then, and are still firm friends now.
In 1999 when my baby brother got married in Brisbane, I made a point of meeting up with a couple who lived up that way even though I was really just up for the wedding and didn’t have a lot of time to spend, and we had a delightful afternoon at Redcliffe beach with our young kids. That afternoon lived in my memory, and enhanced positively my on-line appreciation of these people.
Today the very same couple were down this way, and I completely abandoned Niall before he even woke up, to hasten out of the house and catch an inter-urban train to meet up with them for a morning coffee. We sat around, drank coffee and ate muffins, laughed a lot, talked about everything from brain surgery to selling air guitars on ebay in vacuum-packs, and had a delightful time.
Honestly it is possible to maintain long-distance, long-term friendships with people you see only every eleven years. All you need is goodwill, honesty, kindness and laughter. Niall and I have that between us, and the couple I abandoned him for, Kim and Julia, have that too, in vast quantities. I love all my friends deeply and truly, no matter how many or how few hours I might have spent in their company over the years. I’m even deeply fond of all my ex-partners, still: I may not want to sleep with them any more or even spend time living under the same roof, but all of the surviving ones (two are dead, sadly) are interesting people whom I don’t regret getting involved with at all, and who taught me valuable life-lessons and contributed to my development as a person, even if I no longer have contact with some of them.
So for those of you who are a part of my life, don’t worry if you are too busy or too stressed to have the time and energy for me at the moment – I’ll still be here when you do. And if I drop out of sight for a while, I won’t have forgotten you, and I won’t have stopped valuing our friendship.
Value your old friends. Don’t assume that just because you haven’t spoken to someone for a while it’s been too long, and they won’t want to know. Have you got someone you miss, whom you haven’t heard from in the longest time? Give them a call. For me. If you can’t find them, do a web-search. It’s never too late, and a real friend will remember you with as much pleasure as you remember them.