If we tally up the number of people who flit in and out of our lives over the course of a lifetime, it must surely come into the thousands if not higher. I admit, my total lack of anything resembling an organisational skill, means I’m not very good at keeping in touch but, none the less, I can look back on a life littered with people, remembering them fondly even if I’ve no way of knowing where they currently are. I don’t think I’m in any way unique in that I have a small core of people who have stayed the course and will, without a doubt, be in my life until the end, as well as those who shared my journey for a little while before drifting off to do something else. Does this make them any less significant? I don’t believe it does, we can have intense, far reaching relationships with people even if the time spent together is temporary or fleeting.
I have no contact with anyone from my childhood but that doesn’t mean the people who I grew up with aren’t important to me. It often amazes and chastens me when I meet people who have managed to hold on to friends they’ve had since nursery school. I’m not one for living in the past even though I know it has shaped me into the person I am now. I’m sure we all know people who love to reminisce and are constantly harping back to their glory years. For some, the past seems a far better place than the present. Maybe it comes to us all eventually and the older we get the more our minds latch onto ancient memories. After all, don’t most conversations with elderly people tend to be about events that happened way back when in the good old days?
We all have intense childhood friendships, where we have a best friend with whom we spend our time vowing to be friends for ever and scrapping like cat and dog. My love/hate relationship was with a girl called Tina. We were inseparable from the age of about five until we went to secondary school and went our separate ways. Strangely, I’ve been reminded of her lately as the BBC launched their TV show about allotments. I’ve no interest in anything even remotely gardening related, I hasten to add, but Tina’s dad had an allotment and we used to spend long summer evenings after school playing snap in his shed and eating carrots straight out of the ground, while he tended to his little plot of land.
It turned out that he wasn’t actually that interested in growing veg but was instead busy having an illicit affair with a fellow allotment devotee. He would give Tina and me money to go to the off-sales at the nearby pub for pop and crisps, whilst he was getting up to God only knows what in his potting shed with the allotment floozy. Inevitably, it all came out and a massive scandal was enjoyed by the entire community. All except for Tina’s family of course, who probably went through hell. Sadly, I’ve no idea how that particular story ends, as I said Tina and I seemed to drift apart in the summer holiday before we started secondary school. It was almost as if we both knew we were ready for pastures new and all the new friends that a new school would bring. Last I heard she was working in a shop that’s long since closed down and I haven’t seen her since 1980, when I left for uni.
There followed even more intense relationships during that first time away from home, careering headily between homesickness and exhilarating excitement at being free to be as wild as a student grant would allow. There were a whole series of firsts, most of which frankly are probably best glossed over, and it seems somewhat incredible that a person who shared something so monumental with you can be lost forever. But, I suppose that’s the crux of it, they may be lost in that their whereabouts is unknown but, they can never be gone as long as they live on in those life changing memories.
My first real job was as a newly qualified teacher, in the days when teachers could work until they retired rather than dropping dead through stress or being hounded out by Ofsted inspectors and twenty five year old, fast-tracked head teachers. There was a wealth of talent and eccentricity was regarded as a sign of intelligence amongst the older teachers, who took me under their wings. None more so than my head of department who, sadly I’m no longer in touch with, other than via a yearly Christmas card. She was an amazing woman who, despite having a working class background, got a first class degree from Oxford. She and her husband were the first bohemians I’d ever met and the fact that they were the same age as my parents showed me that families came in all shapes and sizes.
I would be invited to dinner parties and find myself seated next to white witches and astrologists. I met people who were truly different, not just different as defined by popular culture. It broadened my horizons and pricked my sense of self-importance – being a Goth or a punk no longer seemed such a big deal when there were people cavorting naked around a garden to welcome the solstice. I like to think I’m a live and let live kind of person and that’s quite probably in no small part down to my nutty as a fruitcake head of department and her wacky band of friends.
I have a feeling the tweet that inspired all this preoccupation with memory lane was actually referring to people who are no longer with us in a physical sense. As with the people who I’m assuming are still alive and kicking, I agree that those we have loved and lost don’t become any less important or present in our lives either. I never thought much about what comes next until my dad died but I’m now convinced that he’s never very far away. I feel his presence and influence all the time, both from the past and in the here and now.
That tweet then may have been one of those inspirational, Hallmark-style, vomit inducing clichés but, I’ve got to say, I think there’s a bit of truth in the idea. We really don’t ever say goodbye to the people who have touched our lives, in whatever shape or form. I quite like to think we are all destined to meander along, bumping into each other along the way. Each of us taking our journey at our own pace but ultimately heading in the same direction.