“To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life.” – Robert Louis Stevenson
They say “make new friends but keep the old: one is silver, the other gold”.
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this saying, as it seems to imply that newer friends are somehow inferior to older ones. I suppose the thing is that you don’t always know how newer friends are going to turn out in the friendship stakes: and the ones who have hung around ‘forever’ are indeed precious. And they were new friends once upon a time.
I remember when I was quite young making the deliberate decision that I was going to be someone who had friends. I can hear you ask – “doesn’t everybody?” but sometimes making friends has to be worked on. I wasn’t brought up to be outgoing; nor was I brought up to show my feelings, being frequently told not to wear my heart on my sleeve. I made a conscious decision to go against my upbringing and be a sociable sort of person: even moving to London, which the rest of my family thought was bonkers.
I’m not sure how I came across to friends in my 20s and 30s, but I know that something happened inside me when I was about to turn 40 which meant that I became far happier and more confident about myself. Then I met the man who was going to become the father of my children; had my children, who are perhaps the biggest achievement of my life, and also moved to Cumbria.
I have been lucky enough since moving to Cumbria to have seen more of old friends but also to have made new friends, who I hope in time will become old friends. Living somewhere rural is in fact far more sociable than living in a big city, and far less lonely if you don’t want it to be. There are friends who have, inevitably, fallen by the wayside (some of whom I wonder about: where are they; what are they doing?) but my social life is truly rich. And not only on a superficial level: my friends are there to support, cajole, and have picked up the pieces when I’ve needed it.
So I wanted to write a blogpost about two weekends: one with two old friends and one with two new ones (of the ‘I hope they’ll become old ones’ variety).
I was at university with Caroline; when I moved to London I registered with the temp agency which she had registered with. As a result I met Jo: and because Jo wanted to work at the BBC I introduced her to Caroline, who had moved on from the temp agency to work as a Studio Manager at the BBC. I have known these two since my early 20s, and at one point we all lived near each other in Greenwich/Blackheath and share memories of times together, which often get referred to when we meet up. We don’t see each other often but when we do there is a lot of talking: sharing anecdotes of family life; discussing problems; reminiscing about times we have shared.
We met in the Peak District a few weeks ago. We all had a hideous journey to get there and the weather was rainy for most of the weekend, but we were staying in a lovely cottage – the Tudor Cottage at Foolow – we found through AirBnB – right next door to a lovely, friendly pub – the Bull’s Head.
Having got over our awful journeys and sorted out who was sleeping where, we headed to the pub. One of the highlights of the weekend was how friendly people were in the various pubs and cafes we went in. I know in a tourist area they have to be, but you’d have thought that this late in the season some ennui might have set in (maybe the seasonal staff have left and the more career-minded are left).
On the Saturday – after I’d burnt the croissants and we’d done yoga – we did a 9-mile walk from Foolow down Cressbrook Dale, along the Monsal Trail and then back over the hills. En route we found another lovely pub, The Packhorse Inn at Little Longstone. They didn’t have room for us for lunch that day but we booked for the next day – finding that they’re so popular that spaces are limited!
That night after a meal at the Bull’s Head we went back and played Trivial Pursuit, adding in charades… I still chuckle at the video, which probably would not be at all funny to anyone who wasn’t there. On the Sunday we visited the ‘plague village’, Eyam, just along the valley – and again went in a brilliant cafe, the Coolstone. I took photos of their authentic recipes and said I’d try them out, but haven’t yet. If I worked full-time in catering that’s the sort of place I’d want to work or own/manage.
Only a few weeks later and I had a day out in the Lake District with newer friends, Anne and Mark. We visited Wray Castle – where I bumped into the members of staff who I had met when Penny and I ran round Windermere, which seems an awfully long time ago now (6 months ago, in April) – then went to Claife Viewing Station before going to Stott Park Bobbin Mill. The steam engine was working so our tour didn’t only involve seeing bobbins being made but also hearing about this beautiful piece of machinery. You get a real sense of what it would have been like to have worked there: the noise, the sawdust, the dangers of the machinery.
We came back across Windermere by the ferry, which always seems like a ‘holiday’ thing to do. Both were occasions I shall remember for a long time. This is, for me, what life is about – being out and about, ideally with good friends. And in fact whilst I love travelling abroad, there is plenty to see in the UK alone.