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How many have you got?

Friends Liz Davies investigates....

How many do we need and where do we find them?

Friends How many have you got? How many do we need and how do we find them?

Liz Davies investigates.......

All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including scanning, photocopying, or otherwise without prior written permission of the copyright holder. Copyright Š 2014

For Marie Luisa, my friend through thick and thin. And for Hilary too – cousin, friend and saint.

Table of contents


CHAPTER 1: THE SEARCH BEGINS I was having breakfast on Ivy May’s bit of decking which looked over a well planted garden and someone’s (was it her husband’s?) huge ambition to build a swimming pool. Mangoes arrived, toast, gorgeous coffee and we talked in the crisp early morning summer air. I was visiting Ivy May and her husband Jared who had worked with me in London and were now living in Geneva and working in one of the many United Nations organisations there. We were chatting about the difficulties of choosing a book which would appeal to everybody in a book club. That week Ivy May's book club had chosen The Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon. “How absurd was that?” I said. “Far better to have chosen Growing Old Outrageously.” I had only recently written this with an old school friend of mine. “Golly,” said Ivy May, “Far too frivolous for the likes of us.” “Why did you join the book club?” I asked Ivy May. “I was looking for friends,” she said, glancing down at a glistening piece of papaya fruit. “How extraordinary,” I said, “So am I.” “Surely it must be as easy as anything in London? I had no difficulty when I was there.” “Well, that’s what I thought when I got back from Ireland a few years ago; but actually it’s turning out to be quite difficult – there’s old friends of course that I’ve dredged up, but I’d really like to find some new ones. But honestly Ivy May, how can you be friendless in Geneva? It’s batty. You must know masses of people; and you must be meeting people all the time.” She looked ever so slightly anxious. “It’s a problem for me. I asked my psychiatrist yesterday to find me a friend. He said I was mad; I was exaggerating and needed a rest. But I said all I want is a friend and I will be O.K. Then I went to my Zen Master and told him of my need for friends. He did the Tarot cards for me and up came the Fool! There he is walking on his own with no attachments, with all his belongings in a bag slung at the end of a stick. The Zen Master said your friend will be like that, an independent sort of person. But nobody is like that in Geneva.” I told Ivy May about meeting Gregory at a Chopin recital. We sat next to each other in the cheapest seats and chatted away happily before the concert started, in the interval and afterwards. I really felt as though I’d met a friend. He mentioned a special excursion down

the Thames a few weeks ahead to celebrate Canaletto and I said I’d get a ticket. It was a glorious day. Gregory was there talking to people, I listened to the commentary and when the boat drew up at the pier head Gregory was at my elbow. We had coffee somewhere and later I took him to a Venetian restaurant in the very house that Canaletto had lived in when he had been in London. Ivy May broke in, “I can’t have a friend. It’s impossible. And then there’s the worry that if I did have a friend, I would bore them. Do you think Jared will finish that swimming pool?” She gestured down the garden. “I feel like that deep hole - people, friends would disappear in it. I’m not water-tight. I’m that hole.” “I’m very intrigued by accidental meetings which begin well but never go anywhere, even though I had high hopes at the time.” I said. “Only the other day I was walking through a park and a great shambling dog threw himself at me much to the consternation of its owner. We had a huge conversation as friends would. And then later in a café I was reading a paper and the woman who had sat beside me suddenly became flustered, turning out the contents of her bag and muttering about her lost key. I chatted away asking her when she had last seen it. Was there a spare one with a neighbour? It was a very friendly conversation. I was surprised when it came to an end. But the best accidental meeting I had was on a plane to New York. Across the aisle was a volatile teenager with an aged mother or grandmother chastising her in a loud voice and then glancing across at me with an anxious eye. This happened a couple of times and at the third I said, “What will you be doing in New York?” Well, if I did! It opened a flood gate of chat with both of us showing off like mad things about all the different things we would be doing. I saw them again at passport control. I was much further up the long queue so I beckoned them up to join me. Then I said, “Where are you staying? Here’s my telephone number.” And as we exchanged names etc it suddenly dawned on me that we had friends in common. So much so that when I got back to England I was asked to a party given by them. A friend and I were on a bus chatting away when she said, “Let’s go to that boat on the Thames near you for a drink when we get off this crowded bus.” The woman standing next to us said, “What a good idea!” “Why not join us?” said my friend. She did, and we had a very jolly time. All friends together. A sister of a long-dead friend held a party in my house and one of the guests had a son living nearby – what a coincidence; what an opportunity for a new friend. We were invited to dinner the very next evening and along we went to a three course, sparkling glasses, neatnapkined meal. Ideal start to a friendship and especially as a few days later I met them again quite accidentally at a local church fete. We fell over each other with joy and delight – fancy meeting you again; marvellous good luck etc etc. And then, of course, the ultimate in potential friend garnering – the cultural tour. This one was musical in Venice. Concerts morning, noon and evening with large bibulous meals in between. Plenty of time to meet potential friends. We settled on Don, Bibi and Chris and had one hell of a good time which was quickly repeated back in London at a marvellous lunch in a sun drenched garden. Ivy May and I had finished breakfast and were walking round her garden while I was telling her these stories where there was an expectation of friendship which just didn’t materialise.

“Sometimes there are reasons,” said Ivy May. “I remember once going to an art gallery and the artist approached me and asked engagingly how I liked the exhibition. Before I realized it, we were having a huge enthusiastic chat. He felt like a friend even in that short space of time and naturally when he asked me to come to a lecture he was giving on the next night I immediately said “yes”. But do you know, I never went. Something else cropped up and I really couldn’t get there. I’ve always felt bad about that. His expectations, and mine too, were dashed.” We were at the edge of the unfinished swimming pool. Ivy May said in her especially sad voice, “Cicero says that friendship only happens between nice people.” “And that’s why it’s not possible for women to have friends – they are far too bitchy,” a voice said from the muddy bottom of the putative pool. It was Jared. Ivy May and I looked at each other, she apologetically for having such a hopeless husband and I sympathetically for her having to put up with such outrageous stuff, presumably on a daily basis. I looked down at Jared who was trying to waterproof the pool. “So how many friends have you got?” I asked him. He straightened up and lifted a muddy hand and counted one, two, three, four, five. “No wait,” he said, “I like that last one but he talks far too much. I can’t really include him as a friend.” “That’s exactly what Jimmy from Cornwall said when I asked him how many friends he had,” I replied. “He said he had five but that the two he would get in touch with if he really had a problem were chaps he didn’t see all that often. My niece’s husband said he had four or five friends when I asked him.” And even a celebrity like David Beckham is reported to have said he only has three friends. Now what is quite interesting, I mused, men take the question about how many friends they have very seriously and have a precise answer, more or less. Women were quite coy and not at all sure of their ground when they were asked. Ivy May and I moved away from the pool. We didn’t like to be reminded that most of the scanty literature on friendship said it was Only for Men. Of course you’d expect that from those Greeks but even C.S. Lewis seemed to think it was for Men Only and here was Jared parroting the line. Maybe it was his way of sympathizing with Ivy May in her, to him, fruitless search for a friend: women just couldn’t do it, so don’t bother. We were back now on the deck, safely out of earshot of Jared in the swimming pool. Ivy May looked tentative as she looked quizzically at me. “I need friends; I need a friend. People need friends and maybe you didn’t need friends enough so that’s why nothing came of your encounters with those people.” “And of course, if your need is so plain and etched on your face it may put people off,” I replied. She winced. “Perhaps I’ll try not to make it so obvious and you could try to show a bit of neediness.” We laughed.

I omitted to tell Ivy May that I had made it quite obvious in most of the encounters that I was looking for a friend. I had announced it quite jauntily as though I was searching for organic bananas and did they know of a supplier. I realize now this could have been a mistake, rather like the way most people are nervous around a newly divorced person. People tend to close ranks against a perceived, and especially a self-proclaimed, outsider wanting admittance. They suspect they might lose someone whom they consider theirs rather than make a gain. “I suppose that’s why making friends is easier when we’re young because our needs are similar and we cling together. Remember Beryl, my friend the nurse? Well, when she was training she met about a dozen others with whom she’s remained really close even though they are scattered miles, in some cases thousands of miles, from each other.” “It’s interesting to hear their stories of those early years. There’s one horrendous one about a six week spell in a massive psychiatric hospital where the permanent nursing staff treated them with the utmost disdain. The duties were fearsome so it was small wonder they clung together.” “I suppose later on in life those sorts of needs are not so obvious. That C.S.Lewis says that friendship must be about something – even if it’s only an enthusiasm for white mice.” “I really like Lewis’s idea that while lovers are face to face, friends are side by side.” “O yes how brilliant that is! Now you know you were quoting Cicero just now about friendship only being for nice people, well quite the nicest person I know says she has no friends and says so without any regret that I can detect.” “Of course if you’re really nice you have nothing private to disclose and isn’t that one of the key things about friendship; a mutual disclosure of private stuff? And isn’t there a real delight in sharing really private information about ourselves with a friend which is quite unique?” “Mutual and sharing, Ivy May, as opposed to you telling your psychiatrist your inner-most thoughts in a one way transaction.”

CHAPTER 2: THE SEARCH INTENSIFIES I went back to London the next day fired up to “F.F.” - Find Friends. But meanwhile back in Geneva, Ivy May was really getting down to work. She’d made (or so she thought) tremendous progress. She had enrolled in a Dream Interpretation Course. The teacher was very inspiring with loads of clever takes on the seemingly meaningless concatenations of complexities which people dream up at night, quite unconnected with their daily lives. Ivy May could have listened to her for hours but as nowadays participation is necessary, some time was taken up with people relating their dreams. Ivy May listened with half an ear to these as she prepared to say what her recent dream had been: a circle of rats flicking their tails as they watched her mother wash and dress a baby. There had been an atmosphere of menace about the dream, but at the same time there had also been a sense of timeless tranquillity. How could that be? How could two such opposite feelings mingle as one? Ivy May longed for an answer and was looking forward to telling her dream. Meanwhile, she had to listen to other people talking about their dreams: the usual stuff, lizards under waterfalls; me falling off a precipice and landing in an elephant’s ear; all my teeth falling out and my mouth stuffed with gold bars. All that out of control stuff that people suppress in their daily lives. Ivy May waited impatiently, not really listening to the others when suddenly she heard the word ‘rat.’ A woman was relating a very similar rat dream to her own except that in her case it was a circle of mothers watching a rat washing a baby and then putting clothes on it. Ivy May was electrified as she listened while a series of alternative emotions raced through her; first one of menace and annoyance that this woman should have usurped her dream, stolen it from her. Then hard on the heels of this fierce combative feeling there was a delicious feeling of closeness to someone who seemed very like her, indeed could be her. Ivy May didn’t stop to think. She burst out even though it was not her turn. “Yes,” she said, “my dream was like that.” People stared at her. More words tumbled out as Ivy May tried desperately to tell her dream and at the same time convey how moved she was to find someone who had the same dream as her. The small lecture theatre erupted into uproar as people vied with each other to tell stories about how they had had identical dreams to other people. The Dream Interpreter tried to restore order by shouting out some banality about dreams being symbols so it’s hardly surprising people have similar dreams. Ivy May felt acutely embarrassed at all the ructions she had precipitated and kept glancing across at Catherine, her co-dreamer. They left together and had coffee, talking tentatively at first about their mothers, their siblings, their children and their husbands. And then torrentially about the ‘rats of life’ which surrounded, menaced and terrified them. For the next few weeks Ivy May and Catherine were constant companions. Suddenly Geneva became animated and fun for Ivy May as she and Catherine explored it as though for the first

Friends - by liz davies  

True friendship is one of the most wonderful things in the world. It makes the best things in life even more worthwhile and it softens the b...

Friends - by liz davies  

True friendship is one of the most wonderful things in the world. It makes the best things in life even more worthwhile and it softens the b...