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Why real friends reunite in person
This week’s news that pioneer social network Friends Reunited has been relaunched with a ‘nostalgia focus’ was quite timely for me because I’ve just spent a couple of days in the depths of Norfolk swapping golden memories with four of the friends I made at university.
Friends Reunited never held much appeal for me. About a decade or so ago when it was enjoying a first flush of snoop-fuelled novelty, I did sign up out of idle curiosity only to be bombarded for several weeks afterwards by messages from people at school I’d done my level best to avoid.
“Hello Catherine, I hope you remember me?” one optimistic message began, rambling off into a lengthy description of the attainment of accountancy qualifications, husbands, mortgages, children, pets etc. My correspondent rounded off with the jaunty phrase, “…and I know you’ll be pleased to hear that those nasty boils that plagued my teens have really cleared up now.”
This sentence had two immediate effects.
Firstly, I finally twigged who this mystery stalker was and secondly I immediately knew without a shadow of doubt (or twinge of regret) that I wouldn’t be sending an answer.
Friends Reunited lost its rosy glow after a short time didn’t it? After hearing reports of broken dreams, broken hearts and broken marriages, it gradually became alarmingly apparent that lots of people were using it to revisit the obsessions of their schooldays.
While it might have been acceptable to lust after Kevin Bickerstaff and his David Cassidy hairdo back in 1975, it was quite another thing to stalk him online in 2004 when you were both married with children and over 40 years old.
Perhaps I’m odd, but I didn’t really require the services of Friends Reunited to stay in touch with people anyway. I’m lucky to still have several close friends I met in my first year at Westfield School, so I tend to the opinion that if you really like someone (and they like you) you don’t ever lose touch with them.
Real friends reunite regularly in person, not in cyberspace.
That’s certainly true of the trio I just spent the weekend with.
We all met on the first day of our first term at university 30 years ago this year, and although we’ve all gone very different ways, we’ve managed to stay in touch.
Every year we try to meet up at least three or four times and we always seem to pick up where we left off. Mostly we meet up at restaurants around birthdays and at Christmas, but this year to celebrate the three decades we’ve been friends, we decided to throw caution to the winds and spend a few days rather than a few hours together.
Now, this could have been disastrous.
It’s one thing to share a house with three fun-loving students at the age of 19, but it’s quite another thing when you’ve all gone your separate ways in life only to find yourself trapped together in the wilds of Norfolk looking down the barrel of a shotgun at the looming age of 50.
Even as I agreed to the weekend of champagne-fuelled celebrations, I found myself wondering things like, ‘will we all get on still?’, ‘will we run out of things to talk about?’, ‘will we agree about what to do and where to go?’ and, most importantly considering we were sharing two bedrooms, ‘will anyone snore?’ Well, as it turned out, the answers to those questions were, yes, no, yes and, fortunately no!
We spent the weekend rambling merrily down memory lane, poring over old photos, letters, course notes and, most hilariously, copies of our pompous college magazine which appeared to have been written by someone uncannily similar to Rick in the Young Ones.
(Actually, that classic 1980s alternative comedy about a group of scuzzy students living together wasn’t a million miles from the truth when it comes to the lodgings I shared with the friends mentioned above. Although we were all female no one could accuse us of being house-proud.) Full of angst-ridden arty pieces, impassioned polemics against The Falklands War, incredibly smug poems and some florid short stories, ‘Chateau’ (yes, that really was the magazine’s name!) made our toes curl with embarrassment – especially mine when one of my friends spotted a short story submitted by me.
(It took several glasses of champagne before I was able to live that one down.) Three of us were English students and later in the afternoon one of my friends produced a file of old lecture notes. ‘Look at these‘, she said, handing me a sheaf of yellowing A4 paper with the words Metaphysical Poets: John Donne neatly inscribed across the top in her fat loopy handwriting.
I scanned the page – clearly notes taken down during some long forgotten lecture. At the bottom a couple of words were scribbled in the margin in a different spiky hand, mine: “Got any chocolate?”
Good to see that I was really focused on the important stuff 30 years ago?
But it was the photographs that made us feel truly nostalgic.
As we scrutinised our teenage selves posing at a variety of parties, picnics and pubs (never the library, you’ll note), we were amazed. Back in the day, as I believe young folk say, our lives seemed to be a never-ending grapple with acne, diets, disastrous perms and curling tongs. We all admitted that we thought we were the plainest, lumpiest, spottiest creatures ever to grace the face of the earth.
I couldn’t help noticing that several letters sent by me to one friend (she’d saved everything!) devoted pages to the alleged hugeness of my thighs and my plans to go on a really drastic diet over the summer holidays. But as I stared at my 19-year-old self in those old photos I realised I actually looked as sleek as a greyhound.
In fact we all looked rather wonderful.
Okay, my backcombed, 1980s ‘chop stick’ perm might have been a mistake, and my friend Jane’s paint-spattered dungarees teamed with a giant tartan scarf in her hair possibly took Bananarama styling a tad too seriously, but if you looked through the artfully applied make-up, the peroxide fringes and the gallons of Elnett, we were absolutely fabulous in the way that only dewy-faced, optimistic, bright-eyed students without a real care in the world and ‘deserts of vast eternity’* before them can be.
(*See, I must have paid some attention in those Metaphysical lectures after all!)
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