Sunday, September 30, 2018

Friendship, dumb pheasants, pasta fazool

At lunchtime today my oldest friend and I were stumbling around the beautiful open commonland in Maidensgrove. It's a huge field, at least a mile long,  surrounded by old beech trees, that was originally ploughed up as part of the war effort.  We had three dogs with us, my two beasts, and her rather lovely rather submissive Golden Retriever, named Ivy. I say stumbled because I have a tendency to walk very fast (forever being told by my mother that I was too slow, I stride purposefully like a lacrosse teacher) and my oldest friend walks rather slowly, thoughtfully, taking it all in. I considered mentioning the fact and realized that it didn't really matter. We didn't have to be anywhere (except for a 2.30pm table for lunch at the local Five Horseshoes) and our dogs were scooting around in the grass like very happy bunnies. It was then that I considered the notion of friendship, under those grey skies with the grass under our feet. A friend is someone who appears to be one thing, but shows up as something else. Let me explain, this lovely woman and I don't talk that much. We text, and occasionally chat on the phone (I blame myself for this because of phone phobia) and when we first see each other it's all quite polite and sometimes even slightly awkward, but whatever happens, I mean whatever happens, she knows me and she shows up for me.  No matter what. No questions asked.  And then it's like we're fourteen again. We laugh.

And she is an iceberg. Only a third, even less, shows. The rest is underneath, and reveals itself slowly. She is selfless and kind, and doesn't think about herself at all, until pressed. But she runs deep.

Today we decided to start a book club. But what I really want is to read the book she is about to write. It's a strange, strange world, we say, and laugh at our banality. Why we do things, what is important to us. We talked about boys, and rape, and things we felt we had to do, situations we found ourselves in which were uncomfortable as hell, but we were unable to say no. We felt it our solemn female duty to be kind and compliant and to do these terrible things we didn't want to do. We didn't know how to have agency over our own bodies.  We thought it was cool when a cute boy liked us. We thought that people were judged by the way they looked on the outside. Oh it's such a waste. It's just so sad. Our friend, at 17 and an au pair, was lunged at by the "man of the house" while she was ironing his children's clothes. And she didn't know how to say no. And she didn't want to lose her job. Or her paycheck. And she didn't know if saying no would make him violent. So she went with it. She was SEVENTEEN.

Thank God that our girls know differently. Thank God our girls have agency, have confidence, have choices, know that they can choose the boys, and not vice versa. Jeez, the horrible situations we got into. (I feel so lucky that I have ended up with good men. My ex-husband and my lovely partner are both gentlemen with a strong moral core, a sense of right and wrong, not alpha males prone to drinking kegs and trapping women.)

I'm digressing.

I was thinking so much today about the nature of friendship and how women like me, outwardly extroverted, but inwardly introverts, pretend not to need friends, like to be hermits, spend a lot of time alone, either with dogs or with a book, but how we all really, really need friends even if we are horrible ones ourselves. I am the worst. I've killed a friendship this year (I tell myself now it's not my fault, but that I could've handled it better if I had picked up the phone, if I hadn't been so stubborn) but I so appreciate those friends who see you for who you are and can get over the fact that you are phone phobic and can reach out even if you haven't, and know who you are in your core, can see your goodness and treat you as if you are good, and don't judge you or laugh at you behind your back, who realize that you are a whole human. I think of my oldest friend, who walks too slowly and thinks I'm bossy (she says this like it's a good thing, like she's envious of my forthright manner; she says this with pride), and how we can discuss the proper pronunciation of "elegiacal" for hours, and who has seen me at my worst and my most ugly and who I can still make laugh, and I feel so effin' lucky. And whereas I will leap wholeheartedly into a fire kicking and screaming and punching people in the nose, she is slow and measured and thoughtful, and waits, patiently, for her moment, and then delivers a master blow. But she doesn't hate me for my kung fu approach to life.

We moved house, by the way. I don't know if that has been obvious by my complete ignoring of this blog. Between the move and the work, I am gazonkered.  But we now live in a lovely farmhouse at the South Western end of the Chilterns, in a rural community not far from Henley and Stonor, and actually even Reading, where there are fast trains to London. We live in a farmhouse down a mile-long driveway studded with chestnut trees and Norwegian maple, with wide swathes of grass verge that it's impossible not to gallop on. And my little horse lives across the driveway, with 12 or 15 other horses, and she sleeps in a field at night with another mare, a grey named Silver. And we have peacocks flaunting our lawns, and those dumb pheasants (they are the dumbest of all animals, truly) on the driveway, and partridge, and wood pigeons, and the fields are full of red-tailed hawks, as the farmers are ploughing and the vermin are being churned up. The open fields are like West Side Story - seagulls on one side, hawks on the other, crows in between spaced out like guns. The walled garden is at the crossroads of the Ridgeway and the Ridgeway bridlepath, so we are in walking heaven. Thistle has yet to bite a peacock, but my money's on the exotic white one. Fingers crossed we don't get chucked out. Or, alternately, the peacock might nip her which would make everyone happy. There is a gamekeeper called Ian and a gardener called Lester and a handyman called Steve, and they are all completely lovely and conspire to help us. They speak with pleasant, old-fashioned Oxfordshire lilts and Charlie tells me not to mimic them but I can't help it. It's the most pleasing accent I have ever heard. Lester parks himself at the gatehouse and gives ramblers potted history lessons (and throws in a lot of mentions of Henry VIII for our visiting American friends. He says things like "I'll look for your cheque in the post at Christmas" and grins broadly.

Tomorrow I shall make proper authentic pasta e fagioli with white beans and rosemary and not too much tomato (pasta fazool for you Tony Soprano fans). I don't have enough time to cook but I get on kicks. You know how it goes. I love the taste of cooked rosemary and white beans and salt. I love it.

Goodnight, if there are any of you left reading this. I won't promise you anything, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment and well being when I've finished here.

With love. xo


Hummingbird5 said...

What a beautiful place you live in. I so enjoyed this "visit" to your home (and wish I lived there!). I am also a bad friend who needs her friends. Introvert to the max. I thought I would become more outward with age, but no. At least with age I have accepted myself. I don't know how I came to be on your mailing list, but I'm very happy to read your blog!

tedsmum said...

Glad you've found your place near some of my favourite places, stay happy xxx

Speranza said...

Please don't stop your blog - I come back again and again and finding a new post is always a treasure.

liz said...

loved reading this today, how strange had just been thinking about friendships and how there is some sort of cement that keeps certain long-term and long-distance friendships together no matter what and even though we are sometimes so different and then there are recent friendships where we have much more in common and they simply do not hold together...

RCA said...

like it!