My two longest-standing friends and I try to meet up a couple of times a year and last week was one of those occasions. We’ve known each other since the age of eleven, when we started at the same school, our home town’s equivalent of a 1970s St Trinian’s – all hockey sticks and Latin lessons. We went through the same humiliation of wearing the awful brown uniform (which, for the first two years was a shapeless tunic because, the school’s Ministry of Uniform dictated, “we don’t offer the option of a skirt to the younger years because they haven’t yet developed waists”.) Our bond of friendship helped to get us through all those awkward moments of adolescence, comparing notes on buying our first bra and fancying boys. And developing waists, amongst other things.
We pooled our pocket money to buy Cadbury’s chunky chocolate bars from the tuck shop to share at break times and some years later upgraded this to the occasional Benson & Hedges, ten in a pack from a slot machine in town, having meticulously planned our movements well in advance to avoid being seen by grown-ups. We’d sneak them into school and find a quiet corner of the playing field to try a furtive puff or two. I’m pretty sure no actual inhalation ever took place.
By the age of 14 we were also into punk together. We’d invade the local record shop on a Saturday afternoon and pore over the album covers, longing for the day when we’d saved up enough to buy one. (see 'The first album you ever bought...?') We also made forays into the local hardware stores – rummaging through trays of bulldog clips and sink chains and any other strange looking metal fasteners or hooks we could find with which to accessorise our DIY clothes. On the last day of term in 1978 when the school finally allowed a ‘no uniform’ day, we all got into trouble together. It was our one chance to ditch the brown uniform and proudly wear our bulldog clips and Sex Pistols badges on our DIY clothes into school. That afternoon we were called in by a teacher and given a stern talking-to; there had been complaints at our apparent lack of respect. We could not have been awarded a better compliment.
We left school and went to different colleges, got jobs, got married, moved house a few times, but always kept in touch. Now in our late forties, we meet when we can for lunch in our old home-town, our old stomping-ground, where none of us live any more. And now our bond of friendship helps to get us through all these awkward moments of middle-age – comparing notes on a whole new set of life experiences.
As I sat there with my two lovely friends last Friday, and we reminisced about the time we had tried to write dirty stories in the school lunch-hour, only to be so mortified at the thought of them being found by a teacher that we tried, unsuccessfully, to flush the offending pages of our exercise books down the toilets, it seemed impossible that 37 years have passed since we first met.